Tom Burke of Boston's West End set a new world record in the 600 yard dash on September 20, 1896 at the prestigious Knickerbocker Athletic Club track & field meet in New York City.
Burke, representing the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), won the race in 1 minute, 11 seconds, beating the old record by 4/10s of a second, held by Lon Myers (1882) and Billy Downs (1890).
The New York Times described Burke as "a slight, graceful, wiry, swift-moving boy from Boston." He can be "described by no other word than marvelous."
By this time, Thomas Edmund Burke (1875- 1929) was already a household name in track and field and certainly in Boston running circles. The previous Apri, he 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.Burke's father was an undertaker at St. Joseph's Church, and Burke 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.
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