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July 20, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

He's back hammering away again He's back hammering away again (July 20, 2005)

Three-time Olympian Ed Burke is now breaking Masters' marks

by Keith Peters

It was 21 years ago that Ed Burke reached the pinnacle of his athletic career. Not only did he walk into the Los Angeles Coliseum as an Olympian during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Games, but Burke carried the American flag as he led the USA team around the stadium.

Upon the conclusion of the Olympics, Burke retired for a second time in his career. At age 44, he had achieved nearly everything he could as an elite hammer thrower - making three Olympic teams, setting an American record in his event and winning three national championships.

Burke and his wife, Shirley, returned to their home in Los Gatos where they run the Los Gatos Athletic Club. Ed turned his athletic endeavors to coaching future hammer throwers and getting involved on the political side of the Olympic movement.

Life was great for Burke, who took up surfing to go along with his mountain bike riding and golf games. He became a grandfather and eased into being a senior citizen.

In March of this year, after turning 65, Burke assessed his life and health and realized a change was needed.

"I had just seen the end of the glide path," Burke said of growing older. "I assessed my physical condition and noticed I was getting all kinds of little ailments. I found out I had a bacteria which causes heart attacks. I needed to get back into training."

Burke dropped two inches off his waistline, down to a svelt 34. He lost weight and changed his muscle mass. Then he decided one more change was in order - he unretired once again and began throwing the hammer as a Masters athlete.

Burke's first competition in 21 years was in June at the low-key Cardinal Qualifier at Stanford. There, he threw 175 feet, 9 inches and broke the world and American records in the 65-69 age division. His record throw is pending ratification.

Coincidently, Burke's personal record of 243-11 was thrown at Stanford on April 28, 1984. That remains as the American record for the 40-44 age bracket.

Burke returned to Stanford on Saturday to compete in the 2005 USATF Pacific Association Masters Track and Field Championships. While the main portion of the meet was held at Los Gatos High, the hammer was moved to Stanford because of better facilities.

While Burke didn't surpass his record performance of last month, he still won his age division and promptly looked forward to bigger and better things.

"I'm still not used to how light it is," Burke said of the 11-pound steel ball thrown in his age bracket. As an Olympian, Burke twirled a 16-pound ball.

Burke is headed for Canada this weekend for the World Masters Championships, then will compete at the U.S. Masters Track & Field Championships in Honolulu in August.

"If you asked me a year ago if I was ever going to throw again," Burke said with a smile. "Absolutely not."

Getting healthier and having a reason to travel, however, lit Burke's competitive fire once again.

"It was great. I was happy for him," Shirley Burke said of her husband's decision to compete again. "It's so much a part of him. It's like his who life changes when he's throwing and competing."

Instead of wearing a uniform with USA on it, Burke has a T-shirt that reads: Awarded Great Grandpa, hands down. Burke played with two grandsons in between throws on Saturday at Cobb Track & Angell Field.

Where he once weighed 240 pounds, Burke is now a trim 195. Casual observers on Saturday couldn't believe Burke was 65.

"I love to compete," he said. "Every 20 years or so I seem to come out of the cocoon."

Burke made the 1964 Olympic team and finished seventh. He made the 1968 USA squad that competed in the Mexico City Games. Then, after an accident where a throw got away from him and struck Shirley, Burke quit the sport for 12 years. At her urging, however, he came out of retirement in 1980. While he failed to make the U.S. team that was boycotted from the Moscow Olympics, he did make the 1984 team at age 44. He was selected by the U.S. Olympic squad to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies. He did so proudly, keeping the flag aloft with one hand throughout the march in front of thousands in the Coliseum and millions of TV watchers.

On Saturday, Burke walked around with a grandson in each arm in front of a few friends and family members.

"He loves the quest," said Shirley, who has been married to Ed for 44 1/2 years. "He wants to set all the Masters records. It's just giving him something to aim for."

Since there are seven more age brackets to shoot at, it appears Burke could be hammering away at them for years to come.

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