Back in March, Kyle Merber wrote a guest column on some track and field legends that millennials should know about. Among them was Horace Ashenfelter. Over the weekend, the track and field community received the unfortunate news that he passed away at the age of 94.
His name may sound familiar to many because of Evan Jager. When Jager earned a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, his name re-surfaced like a trivia question answer. Jager’s second-place finish was the best by an American at the Olympics since Ashenfelter won gold at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. The only other man to win Olympic gold in the steeplechase is James Lightbody at the 1904 Olympics, but that race was 2,590 meters.
Before winning an Olympic medal, Ashenfelter enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and served during World War II. He had a successful career at Penn State, where he won the NCAA two-mile in 1949. He was also an FBI investigator for nine years. He was not one of the marquee names heading into the Olympics as the Soviets were favored with star Vladimir Kazantsev.
The Washington Post recounted some of his training saying, “Preparing for the Olympics in and out of the office, he worked overtime at the FBI, accruing the vacation hours his bosses required for a trip abroad, while training an hour or so each day. Racing up the stairways at work, he also worked out at a local park after putting his children to bed each night. Park benches, and what his wife remembered as a wooden horse he hid in the bushes, functioned as faux steeplechase barriers on his runs.”
The race is actually very thrilling to re-watch. It was Ashenfelter and Kazantsev side-by-side for much of it. Take it in and enjoy his last lap, especially the final water barrier.