Horace Ashenfelter III, 94, who won a track and field gold medal at the 1952 Olympics with a world record performance and was a three-time all-American at Penn State, died Saturday at his home in West Orange, N.J.
Mr. Ashenfelter, who was born in Phoenixville and grew up in Collegeville, captured the steeplechase at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics in a time of 8 minutes, 45.4 seconds, and remains the only American to hold the world record in the event.
A 1949 Penn State graduate, Mr. Ashenfelter made the track and field all-American team in his last three seasons. In his senior year, he won the NCAA championship in the two-mile run and was part of the winning four-mile relay team at the Penn Relays along with two of his brothers, Bill and Donald.
After graduation and up until his retirement from competition in 1957, Mr. Ashenfelter won 17 national indoor and outdoor titles in a variety of events – the two-mile and three-mile runs, the 10,000 meters, and the steeplechase – as well as cross-country.
He received the 1952 Sullivan Award given to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. He also is in the Millrose Games Hall of Fame.
Mr. Ashenfelter was a 1941 graduate of Collegeville High School, where he competed in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 during World War II, and became a pilot and a stateside gunnery instructor.
Penn State’s indoor track at its Multi-Sport Facility was renamed the Horace Ashenfelter III Indoor Track in 2001.
“He was an amazing person that I was honored to have visited with a handful of times during my years at Penn State,” said John Gondak, Penn State’s track and field and cross- country head coach. “The number of alumni who have reached out to us about his passing shows how important an individual he was to our team, our sport, and our university.”
Mr. 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 team.