Gunning for gold

Former UAF shooter Matt Emmons headed to Athens Olympics

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2004

FAIRBANKS - He was one of the most prolific college rifle shooters in the history of NCAA and he's already made his mark on the international scene by earning several medals on the World Cup Tour.

Now former University of Alaska Fairbanks marksman Matt Emmons is gunning for Olympic gold.

Emmons, who graduated from UAF after the 2003 NCAA championships, has qualified to compete in all three rifle events - men's three-position shoot, men's 50-meter prone and air rifle - at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. He is the first American to qualify in all three men's rifle events in the same Olympic year.

The Olympics start on Aug. 13 and run through Aug. 27, and three other Alaska athletes will be competing - 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Carlos Boozer in men's basketball, women's wrestler Tela O'Donnell of Homer and women's rower Stacey Borgman of Homer. Jeff Donaldson of Juneau also will be at the Olympics serving as the team bike mechanic for USA Triathlon.

Emmons, who originally is from Browns Mills, N.J., will shoot in the men's 10-meter air rifle event on Aug. 16, the men's 50-meter prone event on Aug. 20 and the men's 40-meter three position shoot on Aug. 22.

In Sports Illustrated's Olympic preview edition, Emmons was tabbed as a bronze medalist in the men's 3-position shoot.

"He's picked to finish third in one event, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him win or medal in a couple of events," said Randy Pitney, who recruited Emmons to shoot at UAF and coached him for a couple of seasons before becoming the school's athletic director.

"I'm not saying just because he was at UAF, but because I know Matt as a person and he's an extremely dedicated individual. If you're not extremely dedicated you can't reach the level he has attained."

Emmons exudes confidence every time he picks up a gun and fully expects to be the best shooter in every competition he enters.

"Arguably, I'm the best all-around rifle shooter in the world right now," Emmons said when asked to size up his own talent in an Associated Press article written during his senior season at UAF.

While at UAF, Emmons was a first team double All-American (air rifle and smallbore) all four years as he helped the Nanooks win four straight NCAA team championships. UAF now has six straight titles and has seven overall NCAA championships.

He is the only collegiate shooter to win three consecutive smallbore titles and broke his own individual record with a score of 1,191 points out of 1,200 possible in his senior season. He posted a score of 1,190 in winning his junior year.

Emmons also won the air rifle title one year, giving him an NCAA record four individual titles. He has three perfect 400 air rifle scores to his credit, including two during his junior year at UAF.

Emmons and Pitney went on a five-day sheep hunting trip last summer (2003) and the subject of the Athens Olympics came up quite often.

"In fact, that was all he talked about," said Pitney, whose wife, Pat (Spurgin) Pitney, a former UAF volunteer assistant coach, was a gold medalist in the air rifle in the 1984 Olympics.

"He had an outstanding year two years ago and then he had some trouble and I think it's great that he's worked his way through it and built himself back up to where he needs to be," Pitney said. "When you dig yourself out of a slump like that, it usually means you're going to produce good scores for a while."

"It's kind of like the (New York) Yankees' Derek Jeter," Pitney added. "He was in a horrible slump for six weeks and then he hit .460 something for the next month."

Emmons, an accounting major, also was an outstanding student as he graduated fifth in his class and earned the highest postgraduate scholarship the NCAA has to offer - The Byers Scholarship, which is valued at $6,900.

Emmons is the second UAF shooter to earn a berth in the Olympics. Melissa Mulloy-Mecozzi competed in the women's three-position event in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and finished in eighth place.

In addition to his accomplishments at UAF, Emmons has several outstanding achievements on the international level.

He was the 2002 World Champion in the prone event. He won the three-position gold medal and the prone silver medal at the 2002 World Cup Final and was a silver medalist in the 2002 Zagreb World Cup. He was a gold medalist and quota place winner at the 2002 World Cup Atlanta in the three-position event.

Emmons also has several Junior Olympic and National championship medals to his credit and he pitched a perfect game for his high school baseball team in Pemberton, N.J.

Emmons earned his trip to Athens by winning the three-position and prone shoots and finishing second in the air rifle event. The top two shooters in each event qualified for the Olympics.

"That was my goal," Emmons said after winning the three-position shoot to earn his third berth to Athens at the U.S. Olympic Trials held in late May at Fort Benning, Ga. "I have been training really hard and knew that I could shoot good scores in all three events.

"I was in the right mood the past week and just got into a rhythm," Emmons said of his performance at the Olympic Trials. "The more I competed the better my approach got. I'm feeling good and I'm pretty satisfied with the way things went."

He hopes that he will be even more satisfied after he finishes his Olympic shooting events in Athens later this month.

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