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Monday, April 11, 2011

Boston Runner Thomas E. Burke Wins the 440 and 100 at the First Modern Olympic Games in Athens



Thomas Edmund Burke (1875- 1929) became the first athlete in the Modern Olympic Games to win two races, the 100 yard dash and the 440 yard run.

Burke, just 20 years old at the time, was one of six Boston athletes who made the trip to Athens, Greece in April 1896 to participate in the revival of the Olympics. He handily won both races.

The New York Times reported, "At the pistol shot Burke of the BAA bounded ahead, followed closely by the German Hofmann, who was beaten by two meters by Burke at the finish, with the other runners bunched closely as far behind....Amid cheers, the American flag went up."

Burke was born in Boston's West End; his father was an undertaker at St. Joseph's Church, and later attended English High School in Boston.  He competed for the Suffolk Athletic Club in South Boston and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA).  When he won the Olympic medals Burke was a second year law student at Boston University.

Burke had an illustrious life.  In 1897 he was the official starter for the first Boston Marathon started by the Boston Athletic Association and later was track coach at Mercersberg Academy in Pennsylvania.  For a time, he held the world's record in the 600 yard run at one minute 11 seconds. 

After college, Burke became a journalist and wrote for several Boston newspapers, including the Boston Journal and the Boston Post.

In World War I he was commissioned a first lieutenant and at age 43 was the oldest man in the US military to earn his aviator's wings.  He died at age 53, collapsing on a ferry boat from Winthrop to Boston.

For information on Boston Irish history, culture and heritage, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com and IrishBoston.org