IX AT 50: Topeka’s Margaret Murdock first woman to win Olympic medal in shooting
June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Every Thursday at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game in the last half century — the Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas.
“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Born in 1942, Margaret Thompson Murdock was a woman before her time.
“When I went to school, there was absolutely nothing for women to do,” she remembers. “We were supposed to stand around and be wonderful little girls and sweet little things.”
Murdock developed a passion for shooting at an early age by following her father to the rifle range. After graduating from Hayden High, Murdock moved to Manhattan for college.
Kansas State didn’t have a women’s rifle team in 1960, so she asked to join the men’s team. Her freshman year, she wasn’t allowed to compete.
“You know, ‘Woah, girls couldn’t do that. You couldn’t be a girl and do that,’” she said. “Well, I said okay, and they said, ‘But you can come down and practice on the range.’”
It didn’t take long for the team to change its mind.
“I was beating everybody else down there,” she laughed. “So they got to thinking about it, and then the coach, he started taking my targets every night to the colonel and showing him. ‘Colonel, look. She’s just doing really good,’ you know?”
Murdock graduate won two Big Eight championships in rifle shooting.
She joined the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in 1960, taking her talents from the Midwest to the global stage.
Unlike in college, Murdock was immediately welcomed to compete with the men — simply because she wasn’t seen as a threat.
“‘Oh yeah, if the U.S. is dumb enough to put a woman on their team, you go right ahead. No problem,’” she recalls.
“So, ‘Okay, you guys said it,’” she laughed. “We did that before I shot even one bullet outside of the U.S.”
Her period of being overlooked was short-lived.
Murdock went on to become a four-time World Champion and two-time Pan American Games gold medalist. She set 13 world records, all while competing in mixed competition.
In 1976, Murdock reached the holy grail of competition: the Olympic Games.
“The whole stadium just erupted,” she remembers of the United States walking out at the Opening Ceremony. “You could feel the ground shake from the yelling and the noise that the people were making. Felt like a train going by.”
After 120 shots in the 50-meter three-position rifle in Montreal, Murdock and U.S. teammate Lanny Bassham both sat at 1,162 points.
Basshman had more points in the final ten shots, which served as the tiebreaker.
Pleas from both shooters to compete in a shoot-off, or award two gold medals, were dismissed.
“‘How about two gold medals?’ ‘Oh hell no, we couldn’t possibly do that,’” Murdock remembers officials telling her. “‘It’s a men’s sport, it goes to Lanny, then you’ll get the second place.’”
Murdock’s silver made her the first woman to ever medal in shooting at the Olympics.
It wasn’t the color she wanted, or many thought she deserved — especially Bassham. As the national anthem played, he asked Murdock to join him atop the podium.
“You know, it was a nice thing for him to do,” she said. “Because he knew he just barely won that baby.”
Murdock blazed a trail — proving when you aim high and set your sights on a goal, the target is never out of reach.
“It certainly gave you confidence that you could do stuff,” she said. “You had self-confidence in yourself that if you wanted to do something, you could get it done.”
Murdock was the first woman to receive a varsity letter at K-State. She has been inducted into six hall of fames, including the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, Kansas Sports Hall of fame, and Kansas State Hall of Fame.
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