C. Harmon Brown ’52 has made major contributions to athletics as trailblazing researcher and Team USA coach
By Dan Edelen
Chemistry graduate C. Harmon Brown ’52 envisioned becoming a country doctor, but a hurdle changed the course of his life. He undertook pioneering work to give women athletes the right to compete at the collegiate level and still works toward countering illegal drug use in sports.
Having honed his track skills at Lafayette, this three-time conference champion hurdler’s passions for medicine and sports combined to spread his expertise around the world. His professional career has been in internal medicine and endocrinology, where he has carried out research on the thyroid gland, and he continues to serve as a volunteer physician in the Endocrine Division of University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.
He also is the javelin, discus, and shot put coach at San Francisco State University.
When he graduated, Brown held the Lafayette records for the 120-yard high hurdles and the 220-yard low hurdles outdoors. He earned an M.D. from George Washington University School of Medicine in 1956. Brown continued to pursue athletics while serving as chief of the medical service at the VA hospital in Livermore, Calif., and later as director of university health services at California State University, Hayward. His coaching career has encompassed the club, high school, collegiate, and national and international levels, including numerous All-Americans and three Olympians in throwing events. He coached nine USA track and field international teams from 1967-86, including two Olympic and two Pan-Am teams.
During his tenure with Team USA, Brown worked to find physiological, biomechanical, and nutritional performance enhancements to counter the rise in drug use among elite athletes in international competition. As chair of the Sports Medicine & Sports Science Committee for the national governing body of track and field, a position he’s held since 1983, he has developed innovative drug testing programs to ensure the purity of sport.
“My primary interest is in improving the quality of medical care for athletes,” he says, “and drug testing is part of that program.”
So when players in the Ladies Professional Golf Association voted to begin their own testing initiative, they called Brown. His role on the advisory committee began in January.
He considers his service on the Medical and Anti-Doping Commission of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) some of his most rewarding work in sports medicine. Brown initiated and chaired IAAF’s Medical Education Working Group, which developed a sports medicine education curriculum for physicians that he has taught throughout the world.
“Over the last fifteen years, I’ve set up teaching programs in sports medicine for track and field doctors in Third World countries,” a work that’s taken him around the globe. No matter where they work or train, equipping doctors to help athletes stay healthy while achieving peak performance remains a top priority for Brown. He was editor and coauthor of the IAAF Medical Manual for Athletics and Road Racing Competitions: A Practical Guide (International Amateur Athletic Federation, 1998). Now in its third edition, it has become the “bible” for the medical operations at major national and international competitions worldwide. In August 2007, he received the IAAF Veterans’ Pin for his 24 years of service to international track and field.
When Brown began his track and field coaching career with the Pacific Association in 1962, women were not permitted to compete in the sport at the collegiate level. He believed strongly that women were capable and deserved the chance to enjoy the benefits of athletic achievement.
Brown conducted pioneering research on the effects of strenuous exercise on the female body to demonstrate its physiologic and performance capabilities. In addition to publishing articles in scientific journals, he edited The Menstrual Cycle and Physical Activity (Human Kinetics Publishers, 1986) and coauthored Sport Science Perspectives for Women (Human Kinetics Publishers, 1988), which arose from a symposium sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Medicine Council at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
In recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of women athletes, the Pacific Association Committee honored him with the Tom Moore Life Service Award in 2005.
In recent years, he has helped conduct a study seeking to continue and expand the nutritional assessment program of the elite U.S. Combined Events Athlete Development Project.
Brown continues to help athletes on and off the field.
“I look at coaching as an educational process, teaching young people not just motor skills, but life skills,” he says. “It’s discipline and sportsmanship–using them as a basis for how you live your life.”
Brown is a contributing author to the USA Track & Field Coaching Manual, the official coaching guide of the sport’s national governing body. He is a regular contributor of sports medicine articles to the IAAF technical magazine, New Studies in Athletics.
Recognized for his expertise in medical systems management, Brown has been appointed IAAF medical delegate to many international competitions, including the Atlanta Olympic Games, Edmonton World Championships, and World Junior Championships in Jamaica. He also has consulted for local medical managers for other major international competitions.
The physician-researcher-coach says that his years at Lafayette taught him “it was possible to ‘multi-task,’ though the term wasn’t invented then.” A chemistry graduate, he credits two former professors for much of his success.
“Professor Bernard Marklein led me down the paths of chemistry and whetted my curiosity, and Professor Sam Pascal, an inspiring French teacher, almost had me convinced to change my major.” Pascal’s classes, Brown says, “helped me with my work with French colleagues, and I was able to work part-time in science labs as a translator while in medical school.”
He also credits former track coach Art Winters.
“He supported me for several years as a one-man indoor track team, as Lafayette did not have indoor intercollegiate track. I believe that he paid my way to meets in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York so that I could compete against the world’s best, with some success.”