- Last Updated: 3:17 PM, August 7, 2012
- Posted: 3:22 AM, August 7, 2012
LONDON — Everyone drags their own luggage into these competitions. Matt Emmons has always thought about his Chinese rivals, for instance: In their country shooting is like American football, a sporting obsession whose brightest practitioners are alternately worshipped and walloped.
That is certainly one kind of burden.
So is this: A few weeks ago, no less an august journal of letters as Time magazine saluted Emmons as one of its “five great moments in choking.” The Chinese? They have each other to support. Who is Emmons going to call, Dan Jansen? Dan O’Brien? Adam Scott?
“I think it’s fair to say that I’m the only one in these events who deals with what I’ve had to deal with,” Matt Emmons said yesterday. “But I understand.”
He wore a bronze medal around his neck and a satisfied smile on his face, standing in the Trafalgar Room on the second floor of the Main Press Center, and the message was perfectly clear: They just don’t hand these suckers out to anyone. You get one, you hold on with both hands, you only let it out of your reach when absolutely necessary.
“There isn’t one thing wrong with a medal,” Emmons said. “Regardless of the color.”
Emmons has three of them now: the bronze he won yesterday in the 50-meter men’s three-position (prone, kneeling, standing), a silver he won in 2008 for the 50-meter rifle prone and a gold in 2004 for the 50-meter prone. That’s one hell of a safe-deposit box for the native of Browns Mills, N.J., the fullest one on the history of U.S. shooting.
Of course, it’s the medals he didn’t win that will be attached to his name forever. Four years ago, in Beijing, he was in such commanding position that he only needed a 6.7 — the shooting equivalent of a 3-foot putt — to win gold in the 50-meter three position. But he accidentally pulled the trigger too soon, wound up with a 4.4, and tumbled all the way to fourth.
Four years earlier, in Athens, was even more bizarre. Again he led comfortably before his final shot in the three position. And this time, with dramatic flourish, he drilled the bull’s-eye. Gold! There was only one small problem. He’d shot the wrong target.
“That’ll make a hell of a story one day,” he told the judges.
And you know something? That tells you a lot about Matt Emmons, why he was thrilled to be talking about his workday yesterday. You want an athlete who sulks after missing the game-winning 3? You know where to find them.
And it isn’t just that Emmons has endured things — high and low — that automatically send other athletes into spasms of “putting things in perspective.” Yes, he is a cancer survivor: Two years ago he had his thyroid removed. Yes, he is a man awash in bliss right now, crazy about his wife Katerina — a shooter for the Czech national team — and his daughter, Julie.
“My real gold medals,” he said.
He won’t use the good or the bad as cover. Look, he knows the way things shook out yesterday folks might’ve been shaking their heads. Again? Again? This time it wasn’t gold but silver he seemed to have locked away after an extraordinary run through the finals: 10.7, 10.6, 10.5 out of a possible 10.9.
As they used to say in the old Miller Lite commercials: “We need one pin, Rodney.”
And you know what happened then? Emmons admits: He got nervous. And you know something else? Of course he was. Wouldn’t you be? Wouldn’t anyone? His finger was quivering. He pulled the trigger.
“I knew it was low and to the right,” Emmons said. “I just didn’t know how far because I was shaking so much.”
The crowd groaned. They knew the backstory. Everyone did. Not again …
Not again. Maybe you say he lost the silver. Emmons insists he won the bronze. His score was 1,271.3. France’s Cyril Graff was at 1,271.0. Close? Sure. But enough to wrap a medal around his neck. Enough to feel a lot better than Serbia’s Nemanja Mirosavljev, who left his fifth Olympics medal-free and said, sadly: “I feel like the Olympics are cursed for me.”
Not so for Matt Emmons. He took his best shot, quite literally.
“I overcame,” he said, “with the world looking at me.”
That makes a hell of a good story, too.Follow @NYPostsports