MURRAY — In 1984, one of the biggest surprises at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics was an 18-year-old from Murray State University, fresh off an NCAA championship. That moment earned a top-four spot in the Greatest Moment in Racer History poll and here’s how it all came to be.
Pat Spurgin, now Pitney, shot a 393 out of 400, just two shots off of the Olympic record of 395 on her way to an Olympic gold medal back in 1984. She was so locked in that according to an article by the “Los Angeles Times” she, “set her gun down to take a break and had 12 minutes to complete her final five shots... then shot four nines and a 10 to win.” That made her the first American women’s Olympic air rifle champ. It also made her the first woman to ever win gold in rifle, because that was the first year the event was opened to women.
In the article written by Bill Brink for the “LA Times” in 2009, Pitney said she struggled early on, but had a mental conversation with herself and refocused.
“I just took a deep breath and kind of asked myself, ‘Are you going to do what you came here to do?’ and was able to pull back together and finished well,” she said.
Her career in rifle shooting began at the age of nine as part of a junior rifle club in Billings, Montana. As she progressed in talent level, she began to compete in world events and that made her a busy individual. According to an article by the “Billings Gazette,” Pitney had to alter school plans to match up with her shooting schedule.
“Shooting competitions required so much time away from high school that Pitney decided to drop out before the end of her senior year and finish up with night classes,” the article said. “She missed her own graduation while traveling in Eastern Europe and competing with the top Russian shooters.”
Her talent caught the eye of Racers’ head coach Elvis Green and he was able to recruit her to the team. Little did he know that she would become the most successful athlete in Murray State rifle history.
Coming to MSU from Billings to compete for Coach Green, Pitney was an eight-time First Team All-American for the Racers from 1984-87 and helped MSU to a pair of national championships while winning two of her own, individually. She was the 1984 OVC Female Athlete of the Year.
“The professors were very supportive of what I was doing,” Pitney said in the Runnin’ with the Racers podcast, episode 88. “It was a switch-off of all-in on competitions and (switch) all-in on academics. That flexibility at Murray State allowed me to get a great education and compete with the USA national team. The engineering physics degree provided me with a systems-thinking approach that really has been the basis of all that I have done. It was really a great experience and one that I would absolutely do again.”
In 1993, nine years after she won Olympic gold and a national championship, Murray State University inducted her into the Racer Hall of Fame and honored her further by renaming the rifle range after her. Ten years later, in 2013, she was again honored, this time by USA Shooting, as they added her to their Hall of Fame.
During the interview she did on the podcast, Pitney talked about the talent level that Murray State has had over the years and how impressive it has been to see the Racers compete at a high level every year.
“The kids today, the scores they’re shooting and the talent they have is so far above the level that we were,” she said. “The progression of the sport has been spectacular and it’s neat to see the student-athletes Murray State has attracted and then how they have risen to the occasion.”
Pitney spent time with another university after graduating from Murray State, as she volunteered as a rifle assistant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for nearly 20 years. Her husband coached the Nanooks rifle team up until 2001. With the guidance of Pitney and her husband, the Nanooks won multiple NCAA championships.
She had one last Olympic moment in 2014 as a torchbearer for the Winter Olympics held in Sochi. Her career was full of success stories, but the 1984 year was arguably the greatest in rifle history across all universities. That’s why that moment earned a well-deserved top-four spot in the Greatest Moment in Racer History bracket.