Collegeville-raised Olympian, Who Won Gold in a Cold War Showdown, Dies at 94

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Horace Ashenfelter, right, who was born in Phoenixville, takes the lead after the final water pit in the steeplechase in the 1952 Olympic Games. Image via Penn State University.

Horace Ashenfelter, who won Olympic gold in a Cold War showdown against a more-heralded opponent from the Soviet Union, has died at the age of 94, writes Robert Mcfadden for The New York Times.

Ashenfelter, who was born in Phoenixville and raised in Collegeville, competed in Helsinki in the 1952 Olympic Games, which were seen as a face-off between American democracy and Soviet communism.

The clean-cut FBI agent, who had only run the steeplechase six times before, took on Vladimir Kazantsev, a Red Army hero from World War II and the race’s unofficial world-record holder.

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During most of the race, Kazantsev was far ahead, but on the last lap, Ashenfelter took the lead after the final water pit and finished 30 meters ahead of Kazantsev. His time of 8 minutes 45.4 seconds became the official Olympic and world record in steeplechase.

After the race, Ashenfelter received a telegram from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

“All your associates in the FBI are proud of your brilliant victory and happy with you over establishment of a new record,” it said.

Read more about Horace Ashenfelter in The New York Tines here.

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