Posts tagged ‘track and field’

The Gold Standard

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

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.

Photo via Penn State Archives

Photo via Penn State Archives

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.”

This story appears in the July/August 2016 issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm Leave a comment

Horace Ashenfelter’s Amazing Race

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.

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“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

July 6, 2016 at 11:09 am 3 comments

The Penn Stater Daily — March 3, 2014

A kinder, gentler State Patty’s Day: The combined efforts of the university, State College authorities, local businesses, and many student groups seem to be working, as the fallout from this year’s State Patty’s Day festivities was largely minimized. For the third year running, crime was down in the borough, with State College police saying it was “similar to a football weekend.” As late-winter traditions go, it was nice to see the student-run Day of Service back for a fourth year.

Courtesy of Onward State

Maggie Lucas cradles another Big Ten trophy. Courtesy of Onward State

Three for all: The women’s basketball team on Saturday claimed its third straight Big Ten championship, beating Michigan 77-62. The Lady Lions’ terrific senior class went out in style in its last regular-season home game, with Ariel Edwards, Talia East, Maggie Lucas, and Dara Taylor all posting double digits in the win.

And speaking of champs: The Penn State women edged Michigan over the weekend to claim the program’s third Big Ten Indoor championship. And Shane Ryan, just a sophomore, set the Penn State and Big Ten record in the 100 freestyle to earn Swimmer of the Big Ten Championships. He’s the first Nittany Lion so honored.

All aboard: Thirty-two alumni will vie for three open seats in this year’s Board of Trustees election. Our Lori Shontz ’91, ’13g has the scoop, including details about the Alumni Association voting guide, which we’ll publish within the next month.

Right said TED: The fourth annual TEDxPSU event was held Sunday at Schwab Auditorium. Onward State has the highlights.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

March 3, 2014 at 3:42 am Leave a comment

Franek Headed to Worlds

Bridget Franek and Penn State coach Beth Alford-Sullivan pose after the race.

Bridget Franek and Penn State coach Beth Alford-Sullivan pose after the race.

Junior Bridget Franek had one of the races of her life Sunday at the U.S. Track and Field Championships. She trimmed more than seven seconds from her personal best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and she qualified to compete in the world championships.

Here’s a little perspective — Franek had finished fourth at the NCAA championships. The analysts at letsrun.com, a favorite track/running website, were particularly impressed with her improvement. You can read their take and watch a post-race interview with her here.

Franek’s time of 9:36.74 broke her own Penn State record, too. She’ll compete at the world championships in Berlin in August.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

June 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm 1 comment


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