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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics mourns the passing of Horace Ashenfelter III, former Nittany Lion track and field standout who set a world record in winning the men’s steeplechase at the 1952 Olympic Games. He passed away Saturday, January 6 in West Orange, N.J. at the age of 94.
The only American to hold the world record in the men’s steeplechase, Ashenfelter achieved that feat with a stunning upset victory at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, winning the gold medal in 8:45.4. Participating in the steeplechase for just sixth time, Ashenfelter crushed the previous steeplechase record of 9:03.8, set in the 1936 Olympics.
A three-time NCAA All-American at Penn State from 1947-49, Ashenfelter was the NCAA two-mile champion in 1949 and finished second at the 1947 NCAA cross country championships.
“We all carry heavy hearts with the passing of Horace Ashenfelter,” said John Gondak, Penn State track & field
“Horace will be dearly missed and remembered every day as our team practices and competes in the facility that bears his name,”
Regarded one of the world’s finest indoor track and field facilities, Penn State’s indoor track inside the Multi-Sport Facility was re-named the ‘Horace Ashenfelter III Indoor Track’ in 2001.
From the late 1940s until his 1957 retirement from competition, Ashenfelter won 17 national indoor and outdoor titles in a variety of races including the aforementioned cross country and the two-mile, as well as the three-mile, the 10,000 meters, and the steeplechase.
Ashenfelter was the recipient of the prestigious Sullivan Award as the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete of 1952 and entered the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Millrose Games Hall of Fame in 2001. He also was inducted into the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
He was born in Phoenixville, Pa., on January 23, 1923. He grew up in nearby Collegeville, competed on the football, basketball, baseball and track teams at Collegeville High School, and graduated in 1941. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 during World War
Ashenfelter enrolled at Penn State in 1946, majoring in physical education, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1949.
After earning his Penn State degree, Ashenfelter began running for the New York Athletic Club and won 15 gold medals in Amateur Athletic Union competitions. The Penn Relay’s four-mile event in 1949 was won by a team that included three Ashenfelter brothers: Horace, Bill, and Donald.
Four years after his historic run in Helsinki, he went to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, representing the United States once again.
In the midst of his running career, Ashenfelter simultaneously had a career as an FBI agent, before taking a sales position. He retired in 1993 but continued to run frequently in the Glen Ridge, N.J. area where he lived. The town’s annual Thanksgiving Day run is named after Ashenfelter.
Ashenfelter is survived by his wife, Lillian, four sons, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. One of his grandsons, William Ashenfelter, is a sophomore middle distance runner on the Penn State men’s track and field squad.
Information from the New York Times was used in this story