Here's something to brag about over spring break: MIT students have better aim with a pistol than their counterparts at the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine Academies.
The Engineers captured their second national championship in three years by beating the four aforementioned academies, one other military school, and four civilian schools in a three-day competition held last week at West Point and sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
The final scores in the open division, which includes both male and female competitors, was MIT (6,372), Army (6,365), and Navy (6,322). MIT's top individual performers were co-captains Daipan Lee '07, who placed third overall, and Diana Nee '07, who placed third among women.
MIT students do so well in pistol because "they are focused, disciplined, detail-orientated, and exceptionally competitive," Head Coach of Pistol Will Hart Jr. said in an e-mail. Nee concurred and said in an e-mail, "We are used to exercising concentrated focus and self-discipline, which are both really important qualities to be a good shooter."
Teamwork is another of the Engineers' advantages. "The MIT pistol team is always, by far, the most tightly-knit team at nationals," Nee said in an e-mail. The team members say this cohesiveness gives them a feeling of calm, knowing that they have the support of their teammates both competitively and emotionally.
Hart plays a big role as well, transforming MIT students, many of whom have no previous shooting experience, into nationally-competitive athletes. Both Lee and Nee came to MIT without any pistol experience and became national medal winners by their senior year. Hart says he actually prefers shooters with no experience because they have no bad habits to break.
The national competition itself is a marathon designed to measure as precisely as possible the shooting ability of the teams involved. Teams compete in three different events, testing their ability to shoot different types of pistols with different amounts of time to aim. For example, there is a rapid-fire .22-caliber event where shooters have to make 5 shots in 10 seconds and an air pistol event where shooters have 75 minutes to shoot 40 shots.
The first event was free pistol, which took most of last Thursday and consisted of 60 shots in 2 hours with a .22. MIT completed this event in second place, 26 points behind Army. These people are good. The free pistol event is shot at targets 50 feet away and rewards 10 points for a bull's-eye, 9 for the second ring, 8 for the third ring, and so on. In 60 shots, Lee scored 518, for an 8.6 average per shot.
The Engineers started their comeback in the second event of the open competition, the standard pistol, shot on Friday. Again, they finished second, but this time they were ahead of Army and behind Navy, making the overall standings 4,141-4,140, with Navy one point ahead going into the final event, Saturday's air pistol. Lee, Nee, Edward S. Huo '08, and Fuzhou Hu '09 averaged 558 out of 600, good for the top team score in the event and enough to push MIT ahead of Army by 7 for the overall victory.
Next year the Engineers will lose Nee, Lee, and another top shooter, P. Raja Palaniappan '08. Despite the losses, Hart said in an e-mail that another national championship next year is not out of the question. "My philosophy is one shot at a time, one match at a time. But, the best way to get MIT students to do something is to tell them it cannot be done, so we'll see," he said.
Lee and Nee will leave with a slew of awards, including their individual and team medals from this year, medals won at previous national events, and All-American honors. They will also leave with their NRA membership card that they are required to buy to participate in the tournament. It's a running joke on the team that they are some of the few card-carrying members of the NRA in Cambridge.