Thomas Edmund Burke is a two time Olympic champion (100m and 400m, 1896) and a 1988 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
Thomas Burke was born on January 15th, 1875 in Boston, MA. In addition to the NYAC, Burke was a member of the nascent BAA.
In preparation for the 1895 dual meet against the London Athletic Club, the NYAC recruited Burke and added him to their track and field roster. In what has since been referred to as the world’s first great international track and field meet, Thomas Burke raced against Gil Jordan and W. Fitzherbert of the LAC in the 440 yards race. It was the most exciting race of the meet, as Burke and Jordan were neck and neck going into the finish. Someone at the finish line erroneously yelled “Jordan wins!” but, after deliberating, the referees named Burke the winner.
The NYAC swept all 11 events against the London Athletic Club. It marked a seminal moment in histories of the NYAC and American track and field. Additionally, the momentum that Burke gained from the dual meet carried him to the Inaugural Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.
To the spectators in Athens, Burke stood out like a sore thumb, as he was the only competitor who adopted a crouched starting position. Many crowd members pointed and laughed at American who was hunched over on all fours. The panel of referees, unfamiliar with his odd pose, was perplexed by his “uncomfortable position,” but allowed him to use it nonetheless. The jeers soon turned into cheers. At the sound of the starting gun, Burke exploded off the line and cruised to a comfortable victory.
Burke was also victorious in the 400m final and, in so doing, he became the first person to win gold medals in the 100m and 400m in the modern Olympic era.
Burke served in the US Army during World War I. Later in life, he wrote for the Boston Post and the Boston Journal and established his own private law practice.
Thomas Burke died on February 14th, 1929.