Thomas Edmund “Tom” Burke

Thomas Edmund “Tom” Burke

Birth
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 14 Feb 1929 (aged 54)
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Unknown
Memorial ID 137539745 · View Source
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American Olympic sprinter in 1896, and the very first-ever Olympic champion in a sprint event. He was an Olympic “Gold” medalist in the 100 (12 seconds) and 400 (54.2 seconds) meter events of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the first Olympiad of the modern era (first place finishers received a silver medal in the 1896 Olympics, second place a bronze medal, and third received no formal recognition). Burke was one of fourteen men comprising the US team, and one of nine members of the team who were associated with the Boston Athletic Club. Burke was from the West end of Boston; his father was an undertaker at Saint Joseph’s Church. Burke was a track star at English High School, where he set a schoolboy 600-yard dash that stood for many years. Burke then attended Boston University; while there Burke won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 440-yard championship event in 1895, the IC4A 440-yard in 1896 and 1897 and the 880-yard run in 1898. Burke then joined the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) at a time when Irish-American Bostonians were dominating American athletic competition. BAA sprinters and runners comprised four of the six American Olympic athletes to medal in sprint and distance running events. Spectators and athletes from other countries were fascinated by Burke's American crouch start, because at the time most non-American (and many American) runners used a standing start—the crouch is still the standard today. Burke attended Harvard Law School after the Olympics, winning an intercollegiate half-mile (880 yard) championship in 1899. He was the AAU champion in the 440-yard from 1895 to 1897—in 1896 he ran the distance in the then remarkable time of 46.8 seconds. Burke at one time set the world’s record for 600 yards in 1:11, a feat that stood for 14 years when Mel Shepard surpassed it by a fifth of a second. Burke practiced law and was a part-time sports writer for the several Boston Newspapers. In 1906, Burke coached track at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. When the US entered World War I, Burke immediately enlisted in the US Army Air Service and was commissioned a lieutenant in the air service. Many sources state he was the oldest (43 years) officer to qualify as a pilot in WWII, but his obituary only mentions he was a lieutenant in the aviation service. No record has been found to verify he was a pilot. Based on the excitement of the 1896 marathon event Burke and others worked to recreate the event in Boston. They launched the Boston Marathon the following April, 1897, and fifteen runners showed up. Burke of Boston’s West End was official race starter. He drew a line in the dirt with his foot, shouted “Go,” and the runners took off, watched by curious bystanders. And so the greatest and oldest marathon in America continues. While a member of the staff of the Boston Journal, Burke met and married Ruth C. Bodwell; his wife and a daughter survived him when he died age 43 after steadily declining health. Given the mediocre quality of the US team at the 1896 Olympics (the top US athletes dismissed the Athens Olympics as just another European track meet), the inexperienced and very amateur US team did very well in the track and field events due to hard training and preparation—many Europeans considered athletics as a gentleman’s endeavor and considered preparatory training as lacking sportsmanship. Burke is cited was one of the US Olympic athletes who could have won against the best in the world.


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  • Created by: THR
  • Added: 20 Oct 2014
  • Find A Grave Memorial 137539745
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas Edmund “Tom” Burke (15 Jan 1875–14 Feb 1929), Find A Grave Memorial no. 137539745, ; Maintained by THR (contributor 48277533) Unknown.