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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sports

Barbados’ fastest man leading track to NCAA titles


Mario Burke became the fastest man in Barbados this summer, firmly making him an international ambassador for the UH track program. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

Junior Mario Burke became the fastest person in Barbados last summer. Then he raced more of the world’s fastest men before returning to UH having lived many track athletes’ lifelong dreams.

After helping the Cougars win the NCAA 4x100m national title last spring, Burke returned to his home nation of Barbados and won the 100m at the Barbados National Championship. This earned him the right to represent Barbados at the IAAF World Championships in London that August.

“I’ve traveled a lot for track before, but I’ve never ran at a stage that big,” Burke said. “I was nervous, but I said, ‘Just come in there and get the experience.’ (So) I just focused, blocked out the crowd and ran as good as I can.”

While he may not say so himself, Burke has become an international ambassador for UH Athletics. Before every race, he throws up the Cougar paw to the camera.

In just two years, Burke has made himself arguably the most prominent Cougar on the international stage. One year ago he was in Poland winning a bronze medal at the IAAF U20 World Championships, which marked an honor for his country but not the height of the track & field world.

But one year later, he was at the Olympic Stadium in London, standing among the world’s top sprinters: Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Justin Gatlin of the United States.

“It was a good experience to know I’m able to compete with the world’s best,” Burke said. “It pumped me up for 2019 and the 2020 Olympics, to know that in those two years I could be at the top.”

Burke hails from Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. It was a place that allowed him to roam the streets and get to be a boy and enjoy life — to be free, he said.

He said one day, he was running with his friends and realized he was faster than the others. His parents soon convinced Burke to try track & field, and the rest is history. In terms of how he came to UH, he did not need much convincing.

“I was looking at a lot of other schools, but I was amazed at the fact we have Olympic-level coaches like Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Debbie Ferguson, Floyd Heard,” Burke said. “I was like, ‘You have to go here.’ (They showed me) to be an Olympian and to represent my country at the biggest stage. So far I’ve done it so the dream came true.”

Burke is continuing to improve on his coaches’ commitment to him every year. He won the Barbados 100m National Championship with a personal-best time of 10.17s, following the progression Lewis, the team’s assistant coach, hoped to see in him.

Even after a long summer of competition, Burke is already back competing strong in the NCAA. Individually he owns the 27th best time in the 60m (6.71s), but in the relays he has also continued to succeed. Burke, along with Amere Lattin, Quivell Jordan and Khamari Montgomery, broke the school record in the 4x400m relay at the Corky Classic, currently the third time in the country.

Burke has had a history of running well in relays, first winning a silver medal for Barbados at the IAAF World Relays in March, then winning the 4x100m NCAA title. It is just another tool in his skill set.

Now that Burke is a defending NCAA champion, he expects another big year from himself and his teammates.

“We have a squad this year,” Burke said. “(We showed) that even though we’re not a Power 5 school, we can still win a national championship. And honestly I believe we’ll win it for the rest of my time here. We’re ready for this year.”

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