ATHENS, Greece First, someone took a screwdriver and vandalized his gun. Then, Matt Emmons woke up one morning this week with something every competitive shooter dreads an elevated heart-rate. He had a caught a cold.
His first thought: Slovakia's Jozef Gonci.
"He's a great shooter," Emmons said. "Leading up to the 2000 Olympics, he was the guy to beat. He got the flu and didn't walk away with anything. So when I woke up with the cold, I was like, 'Oh, no.' " Friday afternoon, with some borrowed equipment and a lot of deep breaths, Emmons calmly faced a field full of Olympic veterans and turned that into, "Oh, yes."
The 23-year-old from New Jersey, who went to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks on a shooting scholarship, won the gold medal in the 50-meter rifle prone event with a score of 703.3, meaning that somebody back in Colorado, where the U.S. team trains, had failed.
It's not exactly Jeff Gillooly clubbing Nancy Kerrigan in the knees with a lead pipe in a hallway. In this case, it was a screwdriver jammed into the barrel of the gun in a supposedly secure room. And they still don't know who did it.
"We have some ideas," Emmons said. "It's like 20 people who had access to the area where the gun was."
It happened back in April, before he came to Athens for the World Cup. He went to shoot his .22 and discovered that someone "gouged it pretty bad."
Fortunately, he says, the wood stock the part of the gun that he had customized through the years to fit his grip was unharmed. Emmons explains that Amber Darling, a teammate at Alaska-Fairbanks, let him borrow her barrel action, the metal part of the gun that had been damaged.
"It's fantastic," he said. "The only real difference is this one is a little lighter. I was able to put my trigger on it, my sights on it. So everything I physically see is the same."
Friday, with that gun in his hand, he was nearly perfect.
Picture a dime. That's slightly bigger than the size of the bull's-eye for this event. Now imagine stepping back 50 meters and firing 60 shots "at will."
In this case, Emmons didn't waste much time. He noticed that, because of his elevated heart rate, he couldn't hold still for long. So he fired away.
The result in the preliminary round: he hit the bull's-eye 59 of 60 times, putting him in the first place.
Then, in the finals, where scoring gets more detailed and demanding, he fired a perfect second shot.
"I heard the crowd go nuts for that," he said. "That kind of got my heart rate up, but I was able to immediately bring it back."
It came down to a heart-pounding finish, with Germany's Christian Lusch shooting nine consecutive 10s, before finishing with a 9.9. Emmons, who was taught how to shoot by an FBI firearms instructor, secured the gold medal with his final two shots, two bull's-eye scores of 10.6.
Even before this, Emmons had made history. He arrived in Athens as the first American to qualify for three rifle events in 40 years. In his first event, the 10-meter air rifle, he failed to advance to the finals. But now he has a medal. And toay, he will compete in his strongest event, three position rifle, with what has become his favorite gun.
Standing with the gold medal draped around his neck, Emmons smiled and said that he'd like to find out who damaged his gun.
"I'd like to know so I could shake their hand and say thanks," he said.
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