Deja blue: Emmons off target again

Czech Republic's Katerina Emmons shares a moment with her husband Matt Emmons of the US after striking gold in Beijing.
Czech Republic's Katerina Emmons shares a moment with her husband Matt Emmons of the US after striking gold in Beijing. (AP Photo)
By Noah Trister
Associated Press / August 18, 2008
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BEIJING - American Matt Emmons aimed at the target - his own, this time.

Four years ago, he lost a gold medal by shooting at someone else's, and he wasn't about to make that mistake again.

No, this story was going to have the happiest of endings. Emmons needed less than 7 points. Hit the target anywhere near the middle, and the gold medal that got away in Athens would be his.

He raised his gun. He prepared to fire. And . . .


Somehow, Emmons's gun went off before he had focused it on the center of the target. The result: an abysmal score of 4.4.

For the second straight Olympics, Emmons had forfeited a gold medal with a catastrophic mistake on the final shot of the three-position rifle. His misfire yesterday gave the gold to China's Qiu Jian. Emmons fell to fourth, and was left to explain the cosmic misfortune that has followed him through two Olympics.

He did not scream, or sulk. He reacted with the good humor of a man who knows from experience that stuff happens.

"It accidentally went off, that's pretty much it," Emmons said. "I shot a great match. It's just a crazy thing that happens."

Goateed and affable, Emmons is a New Jersey native and four-time national rifle champion at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. A favorite to win at Athens, he took home a gold medal in the 50-meter prone rifle competition. The three-position rifle that year came down to the last shot; leading by 3 points, all he needed was to come close to the bull's-eye to win.

But shooting in Lane 2, he fired at the target in Lane 3.

For four years, Emmons kept his mistake in perspective. These things happen, he would say. At one point, he even suggested that his error had brought good publicity to the sport.

Besides, immediately after that blunder, Emmons met an attractive shooter from the Czech Republic who came over to offer encouragement. Matt and Katerina Emmons married last year.

And then, yesterday.

Yesterday, for nine shots, Emmons set up patiently - his score was often one of the last to show up on the scoreboard.

"The way I come into a target is I start above the target and come down from 12 o'clock and get into the bull's-eye," he said. "And as I get down into the bull's-eye is when I start to get on the trigger."

On yesterday's last shot, "As I was starting to get on the trigger, the gun just went off," he said.

"I was like, 'Uh, that's not going to be good.' "

The most points a shooter can earn for a shot is 10.9; anything below 8.0 is considered bad. A 4.4? That doesn't happen unless something goes terribly wrong.

Jury Sukhorukov of Ukraine won the silver and Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia took the bronze.

It turned out Emmons had needed only a 6.7 on the last shot to win. A 9.3 would have set the Olympic record. His worst shot in the final round to that point was a 9.7.

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