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Feb. 27, 2009
By Stephanie Libes, Athletic Communication Student Assistant
The Ashenfelter Track Complex
Penn State athletics is known for its nationally acclaimed venues such as Beaver Stadium and the Bryce Jordan Center. It should not come as a surprise that Penn State's Ashenfelter Track Complex is also known as an athletic landmark.
The first of its kind, nearly 10 years after its unveiling, the indoor track is rivaled by only four other collegiate tracks in the country.
Featuring hydraulic lift turns, an in-house weight room, high-level competition, and on-campus convenience, the Ashenfelter Track Complex, also known as the Multi-Sport Facility, is an excellent tool for Penn State athletes to improve their skills.
The banked 200-meter, hydraulic lift track has six 42-inch lanes with a polyurethane surface, which is a bio-engineered butyl rubber reduction layer that allows runners to get maximum energy return. The surface also has embedded EPDM granules throughout the entire wear layer for maximum traction and control.
Within the 200-meter track are eight 48-inch sprint lanes, dual long/triple jump runways and dual pole vault runways. Outside the boundaries of the track include an artificial grass turf for training and competition, permanent seating for 800 and a full-color video display board for results for events.
Not only does the venue have everything a track team needs to be successful, but it has the versatility to transform when other Penn State varsity sports need it as well. One of the abilities of the track is that it can be converted into basketball courts allowing the Nittany and Lady Lion basketball teams to train.
The Person Behind the Name
In 2001, the Multi-Sport Complex renamed its track the Ashenfelter Track after Olympic Gold Medalist Horace Ashenfelter. A former Penn State runner, Ashenfelter was one of America's premier distance runners during the 1950s.
Born in Phoenixville, Pa., Ashenfelter came to Penn State after serving as an Army Air Corps fighter pilot during World War II. Due to the war, Penn State did not have much of a track team, and Ashenfelter was recruited after being spotted running through the golf course by a classmate.
After the union was made, Ashenfelter took home three NCAA All-American titles from 1947-1949.
This athlete continued to run after graduation capturing 17 national championships at a variety of distances.
Ashenfelter's most remarkable achievement came in 1952 at the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. The Penn Stater represented the United State's in the 3,000-meter steeplechase where he upset the Soviet Unions Vladimir Kazantsev for the gold medal and became the first American to win the Olympic steeplechase since James Lightbody in 1904.
How Other Tracks Compare
There are only four other collegiate tracks in the country that compare to the Ashenfelter track complex. The construction of the other collegiate tracks were all finished after the completion of Penn State's facility.
The Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas was completed in the winter of 2000. More than 5,000 seats are provided for spectators to watch the action going on inside the six-lane banked oval. This facility has been the home of the NCAA Men's and Women's Track & Field Championships since its opening.
In the southeastern pocket of Nebraska at the home of the Huskers lies the Devaney Center Indoor Track. Its 200-meter hydraulic-banked track had as of its renovation in 2000 the largest radius (67 feet) of any indoor-banked track in the world.
The United States Naval Academy decided to join the trend completing the Wesley A. Brown Field House in May 2008. This facility doubles as a football practice facility and the home of the men's and women's track and field programs. The complex boasts a Mondo track surface with hydraulically controlled banked curves under a unique 76,000-square-foot retractable Magic Carpet Astroturf system.
Texas A&M is the most recent addition to the club of elite indoor tracks with its unveiling of the Gilliam Indoor Track & Field Stadium in January of 2009. After two years of construction their athletes will be able to race in front of 5,000 spectators.
How the Athletes Feel
Having an indoor track as innovative as the Ashenfelter track complex is a dream come true for some athletes.
According to five-time NCAA All-American and three-time Penn State record holder Gayle Hunter, the indoor track gives Penn State runners an advantage compared with where other collegiate runners train.
"Our indoor track is one of the best facilities in the country," said Hunter. "I definitely think we are better prepared because of this track, and come nationals, three-fourths of the time they have us athletes running at a high level track and ours is one of the top, so we are already used to it."
Senior distance runner Teddy Quinn said, "We come to Ashenfelter everyday and I think we get a little bit jaded. But then we have meets where everyone from other schools is kind-of blown away by the track, it helps us remember how fortunate we are."
Quinn continues, "It is such a good thing to have in Central Pennsylvania in the middle of winter; some days you just can't go outside, it's too dangerous for your health and your lungs. We take advantage of it the best we can and we are totally grateful for it."
Moreover, athletes from other universities love coming to Penn State to compete. Many have achieved their personal best times within the Ashenfelter track complex.
"I came to Penn State for their summer track camp shortly after the facility was built and I thought it was fabulous," said University of Virginia's Lauren Echko. "The 2009 Penn State National Invitational was my first time actually competing at Penn State. I think my favorite thing about the track would have to be the wide lanes for the short sprinting/hurdling events. Often times other facilities that I have run at in the past four years have straightaway lanes that are so skinny I found my fingertips almost touching with the person's in the lanes on either side of me. I loved competing at Penn State because I felt like I could breathe."
Echko added, "Having the turf field available for teams to set up camp and warm up on is a commodity that not many other indoor facilities have. While I was warming up it was nice to be away form the track and be able to focus on warming up, not athletes racing two lanes over from me."