Brutus Hamilton: an athlete and a gentleman

Emma Lantos
Emma Lantos/File

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Brutus Hamilton was not Cal’s winningest coach, highest paid coach or even Cal’s manliest coach (that last award would clearly go to Jack Clark), but there’s a good reason that this past weekend Cal hosted a Brutus Hamilton Invitational Meet at Edwards Stadium. So let’s take a trip down memory lane to remember why Hamilton is one of Cal’s most celebrated coaches.

The guy was a renaissance man. Even if you know nothing about track and field, you probably know that an athlete can do extremely well in at most three or four events, and almost always all of those events will be in the same activity. For example, a jumper usually isn’t a good thrower and a runner sticks to running. Even most long distance runners won’t do too well in any of the faster races. But in 1918, Brutus Hamilton won the high school state championship in high jump, pole vault, broad jump and shot put. He set state records in the pole vault and high jump.

If he had stopped there, no one would have cared. What you do in high school doesn’t matter after high school — listen up incoming freshmen. Fortunately, Hamilton continued his incredible performance. By 1920, while at the University of Missouri, he became the American Pentathlon and Decathlon Champion, and at the same time, a member of the 1920 U.S. Olympic Team. That’s right, he was better overall than everyone else in the United States in 10 events. Can you imagine sprinting 100 meters in less than 10 seconds, jumping up seven feet in the air, jumping eight feet far, throwing a shot put 70 feet and then running 400 meters in less than 50 seconds? And then going back the next day for another five events?

Hamilton’s ability to succeed in almost every physical activity is a testament to his steadfast resolve and self-discipline. According to Hamilton, “it is one of the strange ironies of this strange life that those who work the hardest, who subject themselves to the strictest discipline, who give up certain pleasurable things in order to achieve a goal, are the happiest…”

After the 1932 Olympics, Hamilton became the coach of the track and field team at Cal. During World War II, he spent three years in England and Africa as a Captain in the Army Air Corps. This has led some historians to believe he was the main reason the allies won. After the war, he returned to Cal and went on to become Cal’s athletic director until he retired at 65.

Saturday’s big meet included track and field teams from Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Stanford. Even Stanford guys can’t deny how impressive Brutus Hamilton’s many talents are. Payton Jordan, Stanford’s coach at the time, had this to say after Hamilton’s death: “No other coach had his wisdom or depth. There was warmth, a kindness. When he talked, it was almost spiritual.” Such is the way of the Cal Bear.

Contact Kamin Kahrizi at [email protected]