COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. --
As a hush went across the spectators, two Marines, tied in the finals for shooting an air rifle, lined up their final shots in a shoot-off. A tenth of a point on the last shot meant the difference between winning gold and silver for these two Marines.
These Marines were two of 13 Marines who made it to the finals and won 13 out of 24 medals -- four gold medals, five silver medals and four bronze medals -- during the 2013 Warrior Games shooting competition at the U.S. Olympic Training Center here yesterday.
Gunnery Sgt. Pedro Aquino, who beat teammate Cpl. Angel Gomez in a shoot-off by a tenth of a point, won the gold medal in the SH2 prone air rifle category during his first Warrior Games. The scores range from 0 to 10.9.
“We were confident we would dominate,” said Aquino, who shot a 10.7 against Gomez. “We trained hard, focused and showed discipline. I went into the finals for the SH2 prone for the air rifle and was tied with an Army competitor. We got down to the last shots, and I saw him flinch. I kept my composure and persevered.”
Gomez didn’t leave empty-handed. He took the silver in the prone and standing air rifle competitions during his fourth Warrior Games. He said he continues to compete for the thrill of the sport.
“I love shooting, just looking at those sights and shooting, the feel of the rifle,” he said. “We worked hard, and it paid off. We were determined to win those medals.”
Sgt. Clayton McDaniel also had a close win. He won the bronze medal in the prone open air rifle category during his first Warrior Games. He was a tenth of a point from third place when he went into his final round. He shot a 10.7 and catapulted himself into third place for the bronze. McDaniel said he was honored to win a medal for the Marine team. Though intensive training had him mentally prepared for the physical challenges of the competition, his challenge was the pressure of having friends and family there, watching him compete.
“I was able to tune everybody out, but keeping my heartbeat under pressure was another story,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said he’s proud of his teammates and competes to honor the fallen.
“They’re amazing; they are my heroes,” he said. “They find a way to pick themselves up on a bad day and come here and pull it off on game day and pull out the win. I look up to them a lot. I compete for my Marine Corps and for the fallen.”
Retired Maj. John Schwent has coached the Marines team for almost four years and trained Marines in shooting for 20 years. He said he is proud of his team.
“We had new shooters with a lack of experience this year, and there’s always a learning curve, but we overcame it and took the majority of the medals. They earned it,” he said. “It came down to the very last shot in the finals a few times, but we won the medals. I’m very proud of them.”
Schwent said tenths of a point can mean the difference in winning a medal, and the Marines team trained to meet this challenge.
“We train as if it’s going to come down to the very last shot and you’ve got to perform. These guys did that today,” he said. “They train to be able to perform, to shoot when the pressure is on, on and off the battlefield. We did that, and it’s a testament to the Marine Corps.”
For Master Sgt. Dionisios Nicholas, the competition was more about defending his three-time gold medalist title in the SH1 pistol category. He won gold and kept his title and added a silver medal in the rifle SH1 match.
He shot rifle right after winning a gold medal in the pistol. He said the challenge is to keep the nerves down, focus and push through any pain or spasms he may feel from his spinal cord injury. Nicholas shot a few 10.9s, perfect scores, during the competition and a perfect score for a full 40 shots in practice.
Nicholas said he is proud of his team and that shooting is par for the course for Marines.
“Marines shoot -- that’s what we do,” he said. “We try to do our best in spirit de corps, in professionalism and in executing the fundamentals. I love being a Marine.”
Staff Sgt. Phillip Shockley, who won a gold medal in the open pistol category, echoed the sentiment.
“It goes back to the basics: ‘Every Marine is a Rifleman,’” he said. “It goes back to the lessons we learned at boot camp, going to the rifle range and learning the emphasis the Marine Corps places on marksmanship and how you’re suppose to perform a certain way because every weapon is a gun in the fight.”
Shockley, who raced 12 miles in cycling the day prior, brought his years of experience of being a primary marksman instructor and Marine Corps shooting team member to his first Warrior Games. He said that though he won gold, he could do better.
“I’m going to try to get one of these air rifles so I can train on it and dominate next year,” he said.
Marine veteran Cpl. Richard Stalder won a gold medal in the SH2 standing air rifle competition, his first medal in his first Warrior Games. He said he would have been OK with the second or third place win, because his competitors were his fellow Marines. They took the gold, silver and bronze in the category.
“I would’ve easily let them take first, because they’re my brothers,” he said. “The Marine Corps had a great day shooting. “
The shooting classification groups were modified from the Paralympic rules. Athletes from the Army, Air Force and Navy, a joint team from the U.S. Special Forces Command and a team from the United Kingdom competed in the pistol open or pistol SH1 category or the rifle open, SH1 or SH2 category. Some athletes competed in both the pistol and rifle.
The open category includes competitors who do not have a permanent physical disability, such as someone who has a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. The SH1 category includes all competitors with a permanent physical disability, such as a spinal cord injury or leg amputation. The SH2 category includes competitors who do not have the ability to support the weight of the rifle with their arms and therefore require a spring stand. Athletes in this category could have an arm amputation or other upper body injuries.
Each athlete shoots 40 shots at a distance of 10 meters. They use single shot rifles and pistols with iron sights firing a .177 caliber soft lead match pellets. They cannot use any sight with a lens. Each competition could have anywhere from seven to 30 competitors. The top eight of each category made it to the finals.