Browns Mills NJ native, takes bronze in 50-meter three-position rifle
August 06, 2012,
August 06, 2012,
By Dave D'Alessandro/Star-Ledger Columnist
We learned this after the
tore open his soul Monday for everyone to examine, before earning a bronze
medal in the 50-meter three-position rifle competition.
By now, you know his story — he’s the guy who fumbled two golden chances for medals at Athens and Beijing, and beat thyroid cancer — but you don’t watch sport shooting very often, so it’s hard to know the collateral damage it creates. It’s not like you can see it. This is not a game for men who traffic in Category 5 meltdowns — twitchy, shirt-tugging, dozen-tics-per-minute guys of fan-friendly vulnerability.
This sport is a quadrennial obscurity for most Americans. Even a great triumph, such as the one the Emmons experienced at the Royal Artillery Barracks, would merit a quick mention on NBC, and only as a homeopathic dose of some producer’s inner soldier fantasy.
That’s how we felt before Monday. And now we’re here to tell you we were dead wrong: This is the most mentally exhausting, nerve-wracking experience you’ll ever see — at least the way Emmons does it — and it’s more than an appreciation you get from his ability to hold a 14-pound gun for 90 minutes and blast a pinhole through a quarter-sized target 50 meters away time after time after time.
This time, he nearly suffered a fate worse than ’04, when his crossfire cost him a gold medal at
and worse than ’08, when he bricked a deciding shot (yes, it’s a hoops term,
use your imagination) that cost him another. Athens
Lamentable failures, but old news. Or so it seemed during the three qualifying rounds of 40 shots each, as Emmons was solid during the prone position round, superb during the standing position series, and a straight shooter during the kneeling position set.
“He’s been pretty positive since 2008,” said his wife Katrina, the Czech Olympian who has three medals herself. “It’s just really tough when you have some — excuse my word — asses reminding you. Some of them on purpose, some of them making fun, which was not nice.
“He’s had to overcome that, and it was hard. Because it made him sad that people remember him more as (having) failed rather than a success.”
So now he was one shot away from a silver medal again, in the eight-man finals competition, which involve just 10 standing shots.
Just to clarify: Targets in the finals shrink. Now these shots are akin to hitting a bullseye the size of a dime from more than a half-football field away, and he had scored six 10’s in his seven previous shots.
Pure. Confident. It is a skill that requires inhuman concentration.
That’s when the Browns Mills product chose to remind us that the difference between calamity and serenity is about an inch, and largely influenced by a runaway heartbeat.
“I did everything I could to try to calm my body down,” Emmons said. “On the last shot, I was just shaking so much, I thought, ‘Okay, Matt — take your breaths, do your normal routine, and when you get on the target, start putting pressure on the trigger, and just keep going. Don’t hold up, don’t try to dress it up, just make it the best you can.’ ”
And with the memories of ’04 and ’08 swirling in the heads of everyone in the building, Emmons squeezed the trigger — very prematurely, it seemed — and the bullet pierced the target.
A gasp echoed throughout the hall as the board flashed a “7.6,” indicating it was a few inches southeast of the bullseye.
“I was jumpy,” he said. “I made a mistake.”
It was the worst shot — by far — of the Finals round.
Somehow, Emmons lived to tell about it, because he finished with 1271.3 points to 1271.0 for a Frenchman named Cyril Graff.
After 130 shots over five hours, Emmons earned his bronze by a decimal point. If Graff scored a 10.8 on his last shot instead of his 10.4, Emmons finishes fourth.
“Just to be on the podium is a special thing,”
greatest marksman said. “The last four years have been tough. There’s been a
lot of buildup, and I had the weight of the world on my shoulders — about how I
was going to perform, how was I going to do on the last shot.”
He was gracious when that last shot brought bronze, just as he was when it brought heartbreak. This, however, cannot be expressed as well by scribbling strangers as it can by his peers, one of whom happened to set the Olympic record in this event Monday.
He is Niccolo Campriani, the splendid shooter from
who looks like an amiable corner grocer, who interjected an unsolicited remark
that would make Emmons’ eyes moisten at the press conference. Italy
“If I can comment here,” Campriani said in eloquent but heavily accented English. “It’s not how you win, but how you handle the loss that tells you whether you’re a champion or not.
“Matt is an unbelievable person. The way he managed
the way he was able to smile after 10 minutes, and that was the most impressive
thing I ever saw on the shooting range. He is a model for me, he’s absolutely
an inspiration, and I am really happy he is with me today, because he’s a great