Posts filed under ‘The Penn Stater Magazine’
His older brother loved to race bikes, and so, as a boy of only 5 or 6, Matt Baranoski found himself dragged along to the track. He was technically too young to join in, but he knew how to ride, and it hardly seemed fair to make a kid that age sit and watch while the older boys had all the fun. So his parents asked, and the folks in charge at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome said sure, and an exception was made.
Fifteen years and a cabinet-full of trophies later, the exception seems to have worked out pretty well.
It’s late April as Baranoski tells the story by phone from suburban Toronto, where he’s part of a select group of cyclists training at a sparkling new Canadian cycling center. It’s among the best facilities of its kind in the world, and the elite competition is exactly what he needs as he works to peak in time for Rio. “It’s always good to be pushed,” he says.
In truth, Baranoski doesn’t seem like the type to struggle for motivation. A junior national champion by the time he was 12, able to hold his own against top international competition just a few years later, he quite literally never slowed down. His ambitions on the track informed his college choice: The Perkasie, Pa., native chose Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the proximity of the world-class velodrome and the campus’s cycling program, led by longtime coach Jim Young, whom Baranoski calls “a legend in the collegiate cycling world.” (Baranoski will be joined in Rio by Bobby Lea ’06 Berks, a fellow Lehigh Valley alum making his third Olympic appearance.)
Baranoski rides in an event called the keirin, which he calls “the most fun race on the track.” It’s an eight-lap sprint around the 250-meter banked track, paced by a motorcycle, that leads Baranoski to compare it to NASCAR; world-class cyclists will approach 50 miles per hour down the stretch, occasionally bumping each other to protect their position. “For the last two and a half laps,” he says, “it’s all-out war.”
Six days after his final race in Rio, Baranoski will be back at University Park for his final semester in the Schreyer Honors College; the electrical engineering major is set to graduate in December. It’s a quick turnaround, but if anyone can handle that sort of pace, he’s probably the guy.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
Heading into the final water jump of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1952 Summer Olympics, Horace Ashenfelter noticed that the water pit was getting “messy.”
So Ashenfelter ’49, ’55 H&HD decided to let his main opponent, Russia’s Vladimir Kazantsev, into the water first, hoping it would cause him to slip up.
It was a risky move, as it required slowing down and giving his opponent a small lead, but when they got to the jump, it paid off. Kazantsev stumbled, Ashenfelter passed him, and the American sprinted to the gold medal with a world-record time of 8:45.4.
Looking back on the race recently from their home in Glen Ridge, N.J., Ashenfelter’s wife of 71 years, Lillian, said he was never much of a sprinter—but down the final stretch of the race, she had never seen him run faster in his life.
Ashenfelter’s gambit showed a savvy you’d expect from a veteran steeplechase runner, not someone who estimates that he ran the race only seven times in his life. Twenty-nine years old at the time, he worked for the FBI during the day and trained during his downtime; even so, he was still one of the best American runners. He had been a three-time All-American at Penn State, and in the years since graduating, Ashenfelter traveled all over the country and competed for the New York Athletic Club. His training consisted of running for, at most, two hours a day. He would sometimes train for the steeplechase by jumping over a hurdle that he stashed in a bush at the park near his home in New Jersey.
And while he wasn’t the most experienced steeplechaser, he knew that’s what he wanted to do in Helsinki. Ashenfelter had the option to run either the steeplechase or the 10,000 meters; he decided on the former and set an Olympic record in prelims. Two days later at the finals, Ashenfelter lopped nearly six seconds off of his time and set the world record.
Lillian recalls a chorus of “Ash-en-fel-ter” ringing through the crowd in Helsinki, as those in attendance desperately wanted the American to beat the Russian. Despite that, and despite the fact that he won the gold, Ashenfelter compared this win to winning a race back when he was in high school.
“That’s what you should do,” Ashenfelter said. “You’re supposed to win.”
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
One of the highlights of our July/August 2016 issue is the story of Horace Ashenfelter ’49, ’55g, the only Penn State alumnus to win an individual Olympic gold medal. Ashenfelter won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1952 Games in Helsinki with a world-record time of 8:45.4.
At the top of this post is a truncated version of the race, which includes the final water jump and Ashenfelter’s sprint to the finish line. You’ll notice that Ashenfelter’s main competitor, Russia’s Vladimir Kazantsev, stumbles in the water (around the 2:44 mark), which led to Ashenfelter pulling ahead. Ashenfelter explained in our story that he noticed that the water pit was getting “messy,” so he tried to influence Kazantsev into one of the slippery areas with the hopes that he’d make a mistake.
Ashenfelter’s lead was so large that his rather awkward approach on the final hurdle didn’t cost him.
“He almost forgot to jump over it,” remembers his wife, Lillian. “He didn’t take it in stride. It was like, ‘whoops!'”
Despite the unconventional approach, he managed to clear the jump before coasting to victory: Ashenfelter finished about six seconds ahead of Kazantsev and clinched the gold.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
Our July/August 2016 issue included a big list of Penn State alums who have competed in the Olympic Games. However, it excluded a pair of Nittany Lions who earned the title of honorary Olympians in 1940.
Barney Ewell (right) and Nick Vukmanic ’40 received this honor for qualifying for the 1940 Games in Tokyo, which were canceled due to World War II. Ewell was a sprinter who eventually made it to the Olympics and did pretty well for himself – he won a gold medal in the 4×100 meter relay and silvers in the 100 and 200 meters in 1948. Vukmanic was a standout in javelin. While he never got the chance to compete at the Olympics, Vukmanic won a U.S. National Championship in the event in 1938.
Thank you to Kristy Kowalski ’92, Vukmanic’s granddaughter, for bringing the story of the two honorary Olympians to our attention.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
The countdown to Rio is here, and we have Olympic hopeful and cyclist Matt Baranoski on the cover of our July/August issue. Before he graduates from Smeal this December, he will try to medal in the fastest event at the Games, the kirin. Baranoski is just one of the many Penn Staters to compete on the grandest of stages: Learn about all of our elite athletes—past and present—starting on p. 27.
The magazine also includes a story about the Penn State Center for Sport Concussion and Research, where professor Semyon Slobounov and others are rethinking the diagnoses and treatment of brain injuries.
We also take a look at some of the most iconic Arts Fest posters from over the years. Created by graphic designer Lanny Sommese, the colorful collection—and the stories behind them—start on p. 44. (You’ll also get a sneak peek at the new 2016 poster.)
More from the issue: A tribute to Bryce Jordan, the university’s 14th president, who passed away in April; a farewell to Christian Brady, who is stepping down as dean for Schreyer Honors College; a recap of the women’s rugby national title; and a conversation with Taylor Guelich, who started her freshman year at age 15 and may just be the youngest student to ever enroll at Penn State.
We’d love to hear your feedback on the new issue—comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Downey, senior editor
We appreciate the continued commitment of the women’s rugby program to making us look smart. The Lions, who we featured on the cover of our May/June issue last year, traveled to California over the weekend and came back with their fifth straight national championship. Penn State knocked off BYU, 15-5, to extend one of the most impressive dynasties in college sports.
Led by coach Kate Daley ’09—who we profile during her All-American undergrad days way back in 2009—and an MVP performance from freshman Azniv Nalbandian, the Lions claimed the inaugural D1 Elite final, the title game of the new women’s college rugby playoff format. But there was nothing new about this for Penn State: It was not only the program’s fifth consecutive championship, but its 11th overall, the most of any team in the nation.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor