Meet rifle shooter Matt Emmons, the luckiest Olympian in Beijing. Meet shooter Matt Emmons, the unluckiest Olympian in Beijing. Confused? So is Emmons. How come all these things keep happening to him? How can Tantalus pull Olympic gold out from under him twice, so he misses his most important shooting targets by a mile, while at the same meet, Cupid slings his arrows perfectly to make Emmons grateful for his misses? "I've had the ultimate highs and lows," Emmons says, "but when I put them together, I still feel blessed."
Here's why. Go back to Athens in 2004 when Emmons won gold in the 50-meter prone rifle event and was one shot away from winning gold in the three-position prone event. Emmons didn't need a perfect shot or even an average one, just a below-average one to maintain a three-point going into his final shot. Emmons sighted, aimed and fired at the wrong target. This was Jim Marshall running the wrong way, Freddy Brown passing the ball to James Worthy and Steve Smith stuffing the puck under Grant Fuhr. It was the day Bill Buckner ran into Lindsey Jacobellis and Eddie Hart showed up at 4:10 for his 4:05 heat of the hundred.
Emmons was known as a likeable, cheery guy and the line of sympathy for him after the competition practically extended out the door. Later that night, Emmons went to a beer garden where the first person to reach him was Katy Kurkova, a bronze-medal winning shooter from the Czech Republic who had said hi to Emmons a few times. A romance ensued, and the pair married in the Czech Republic last summer. "Everything happens for a reason," Emmons says. "If having Katy in my life is the reason for what happened in Athens, I'd cross-fire a million times."
Then this year, Tantalus showed up again. Matt had already won a silver medal in the 50-meter rifle prone, and Katy had won a gold and silver for the Czechs. Matt was leading the 50-meter three-position competition with one shot remaining. Again, he needed only a below-average score on the last shot to win gold. Instead, his gun went off prematurely and barely hit a piece of the target. Emmons had been scoring in the tens out of 10.9, with the prospect of an eight or nine fairly remote as well as he was shooting. "I was in my pre-shot routine," Emmons recalls. "I picked up my gun and came down from 12 o'clock into the target. As I was coming down, the gun just went off." Emmons recorded just 4.4 and slumped from first place to fourth on the last shot. China's Qiu Jian won gold.
Through his disappointment, Emmons again revealed himself as a fine sportsman. "I took 120 shots and then ten more in the final, and 129 of them were good," he said. "I can't let one moment ruin the beauty of the competition."
Afterwards, the people in the Czech house in Beijing, including the country's prime minister, threw a party for both Katy and Matt, and the minister of the interior offered to help Emmons become a dual citizen. The two have become media darlings of the Olympic village, calling to mind the marriage of U.S. hammer thrower Harold Connelly and Czech discus thrower Olga Fikitova in the '50s.
They have decided to keep competing, each with one eye on London as the other eye zeroes in on more targets. "By then," Emmons says, "I'm sure the reason for what happened in Beijing will reveal itself, too."