- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2008

— BEIJING | 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 seven 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 …

BLAM.



Somehow, Emmons’ 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 Sunday 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 in 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 three 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.

At the time, he recalled “just worrying about calming myself down and just breaking a good shot, and so I didn’t even look at the number” of the lane. He admittedly “probably should have.”

For four years, Emmons kept his mistake in perspective. These things happen, he would say. At one point, he even suggested 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.

Matt and Katerina were the talk of the shooting venue in Beijing. When one was competing, the other was always close by. Katerina won two medals, a gold and a silver. Matt added the silver in prone rifle.

They would pose for pictures in celebration and attend each other’s news conferences. Together, they were living an Olympic dream.

And then, Sunday.

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 Sunday’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 unusually bad. A 4.4? That doesn’t happen unless something goes terribly wrong.

Katerina was there for him, as she was four years ago. She held her face close to his and offered a few words of comfort. The crowd - ecstatic over another Chinese gold medal - applauded the couple politely.

“It’s just not meant to be,” Katerina said, laughing. “He’s definitely the best standing shooter out there. If he can still end up fourth with a 4.4 on the last shot, that’s a hell of a shooter.”

Jury Sukhorukov of Ukraine won the silver, and Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia took the bronze. Four years ago, China’s Jia Zhanbo won the gold after Emmons shot at the wrong target. This time, Qiu was the beneficiary.

“I didn’t know what had happened,” Qiu said. “Hearing the spectators’ cheering, I felt maybe I got the silver. But my coach told me I got the gold.”

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.

“He smoked everybody else,” Katerina Emmons said.

He did - until the last shot.

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