100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: Brutus Hamilton, track and field

Brutus Hamilton.jpg
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 09:00:45-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two-time Olympian Brutus Hamilton was born in Peculiar (or Belton), became a star at Harrisonville High School, refined his track and field skills at the University of Missouri, then went on to even greater acclaim as a coach.

Despite nearly losing a foot and suffering a dislocated hip in a farm accident at age 6, Hamilton, a 1918 graduate from Harrisonville, helped the Wildcats win state titles in 1916 and 1917 in track and field. He claimed nine individual state championships along the way.

Hamilton gained attention as a football and track star at Mizzou from 1920-22, serving as the Tigers’ captain as a senior.

He won national AAU titles in 1920 in the pentathlon and decathlon, earning an Olympic berth.

During the 1920 Antwerp Games, Hamilton led in the decathlon through nine of the 10 events, settling for a silver medal after he lost in the 1,500 meters in the closest finish in Olympic history.

In fact, it was so close — Hamilton lost to Norway’s Helge Løvland by four points — the final results were not certified until a day after the competition and only following a recount.

Hamilton also placed sixth in the pentathlon in 1920, returning to the Olympics in 1924 and finishing seventh in the pentathlon at the Paris Games.

He later served as an assistant coach on the 1932 and 1936 Olympic teams, coaching James Bausch and Glenn Morris to successive gold medals in the decathlon, before serving as the head coach for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

The U.S. collected 14 gold medals, 10 silver and six bronze that year.

He was the only Olympic medalist to later serve as coach as well.

Hamilton also was a veteran. He enlisted in the military during World War I and was assigned to bury people who died from the flu pandemic.

Decades later, Hamilton enlisted again during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, serving two years in England and northern Africa.

Between the wars, Hamilton served as the head track coach at Westminster College (1926-29) in Fulton, Missouri, and the University of Kansas (1930-32) before heading west.

Hamilton spent the next 33 seasons as the head track coach at the University of California-Berkeley from 1933-65, winning seven NCAA titles and posting a 125-92 record in dual meets.

His Golden Bears athletes set two world records and seven Olympic records.

He was instrumental in helping Don Bowden become the first U.S. runner to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile and helped integrate Golden Bears athletics by recruiting future gold medalist Archie Williams to Cal during the 1930s.

After returning from World War II, Hamilton continued as the Bears’ track and field coach and also served as the school’s athletic director from 1947-55.

Hamilton, who also served for several years as the director of the NCAA Track and Field Rules Committee, was renowned as a wordsmith and famed for his letters, many of which were published in the book “Worlds of Brutus Hamilton” in 1975.

Cal started the Brutus Hamilton Invitational in 1997.

Hamilton, who was voted Missouri’s Greatest Amateur Athlete in 1950, was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1956, the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974, the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986, was part of the inaugural Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame class in 1990 and was added the Harrisonville High Wall of Fame in 2005.

He died in 1970 and is buried in Cass County.

The Kansas City region has a deep, rich history with respect to the Olympic Games. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approach with the Opening Ceremony scheduled for July 23, we will profile an athlete with ties to Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas each day.

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