Bernard E. Berlinger, 94, decathlon champion

Posted: December 05, 2002

Bernard E. "Barney" Berlinger, 94, a record-setting decathlon champion at the University of Pennsylvania who earned the prestigious Sullivan Award in 1931 as the nation's best all-around athlete, died of heart failure Monday at his home in Carversville.

Mr. Berlinger was often called a one-man track team during an athletic career marked by prowess in three sports, scores of championship citations, and a trip to the Olympic Games.

At a national meet in 1927, he alone amassed enough points in six events to win the team title at the Amos Alonzo Stagg National Interscholastic Track Meet in Chicago. Mr. Berlinger shared the team title with his fellow athletes from Mercersburg Academy.

A succession of athletic milestones followed. He competed in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, and later set so many track and field records that his coach once compared him to Olympian Jim Thorpe.

"He never lifted a weight, and his practices were not nearly as rigorous as they are today," Mr. Berlinger's son, Barney Jr., said. "He got a rush out of competition. Anything he did, he had to be number one."

Mr. Berlinger started his athletic career as captain of the football, basketball and track teams at William Penn Charter Academy. He competed in three sports at Mercersburg Academy, but decided to focus on the decathlon when he entered the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He wanted to go to the Olympics.

In 1928, Mr. Berlinger made the team. At 20 years old, 6-foot-2, and 195 pounds, he represented the United States in the Netherlands, but did not bring home a medal. When he returned, he resumed setting national records at the Penn Relays. In 1931, he won the Sullivan Award and was voted the nation's best amateur athlete by the National Sportswriters Association.

After earning a business degree, Mr. Berlinger began a longtime career in management at the Quaker City Gear Works, a family-owned company that manufactured mechanical gears. He also remained an athlete.

He went on a goodwill sports tour of South Africa, competed at the 1933 World's Fair, and traveled to Europe after World War II to teach Army officers how to coach track and field to the troops. In 1952, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to a post aimed at encouraging young people to participate in sports.

After track and field, Mr. Berlinger became a casting champion, setting national distance records in fly-casting contests. He also traveled to South America, Australia and India to participate in big-game hunting.

Mr. Berlinger remained with Quaker City Gear Works until 1978, when he retired as president of the company. He recently celebrated 66 years of marriage to his wife, Marguerite Wagner Berlinger.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Berlinger is survived by a daughter, Linda Burke; and seven grandchildren.

Services and burial are private.

Memorial donations may be made to Doylestown Hospital, 595 W. State St., Doylestown, Pa. 18901.

Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 215-854-2791 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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