Saturday, February 6, 2010

Beijing 2008 – Letter from Silver medalist Emmons

Found somewhere in Internet.

My Olympic Adventure – Chapter 2: Beijing 2008
Matt Emmons

Four years ago I decided to write a mass email to my family and friends about my Olympic experience in Athens. Well, here I sit again early in the morning suffering from jet-lag, so I’ll write a new chapter. This experience was, again, filled with incredible highs and some lows, too. Get a cup of coffee and I hope you all enjoy the story!

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way to achieve my dreams. 12 years ago when I first started shooting competitively, I never would have believed that I would be living the life I’m living. I’m so thankful for everything I have and the opportunities I’ve been given. Endless thanks to all of you who have made a difference in my life; especially my parents, Paul Adamowski, Ed Shea, Randy Pitney, Dave Johnson, my wife, Katy, and my family in the Czech Republic.

So here we go! I’ll back up a little bit to the Airgun Olympic trials in March. That’s where the story should start. I went into those trials expected to win and make the team. My goal was to go after three medals in Beijing, so, naturally, airgun was the last piece since I had already qualified for both smallbore events. I wasn’t shooting my very best at that time and through the first two days of the trials, I shot decent. On the last day, I had one of those once-in-five-years terrible days where nothing made sense or worked. I missed the airgun team and it caused quite a stir among many. Frankly I was surprised and disappointed, but things indeed happen for a reason (this is a theme we’ll visit much more later…). Now it was time to change gears a little bit and concentrate more on smallbore even though I continued to train airgun.

I started the Olympic trip on July 28th. I left my current home of Colorado Springs and hopped on a plane to San Francisco where we would take a short drive to San Jose for our in-processing. This was where we received our uniforms and pretty much everything we would need for the Olympics. We did the in-processing at San Jose State University. I was really surprised with San Jose. I didn’t get to see too much of the city, but it was my first trip to California and I was impressed. San Jose State University was a really nice place. Clean and the weather was beautiful! Downtown was nice, too. During the afternoon of the 28th, we got our uniforms and all kinds of things. Wow, did we get a lot of clothing! I probably got about 30 shirts!

The next morning we headed back to the airport to depart as a whole team for Changwon, South Korea, for our pre-Olympic training camp. I wasn’t terribly excited to go back to Korea, but I wanted to keep an open mind and give it a second chance. We arrived to Changwon late in the evening and it was pretty hot and steamy. Kind of like being in a wet sauna all the time! We were going to be there for about a week.

I was roomed with Brian Beaman from the pistol team. I was a little surprised we were roomed together since I knew the rooming arrangements for the Olympics would be different. However, it was great that we roomed together. I’ve known Brian for several years, but never really got to know him well. As we talked more and more, I really began to enjoy his company. Brian’s got a great sense of humor and we’re both avid hunters, so we had lots to talk about. I also have a lot of respect for him because he’s only been shooting pistol for about four years and, wow, he is talented!

The week in Changwon was really good. We’d go to the range in the morning, train until about 1 or 2pm, and then go back to the hotel. I’d do some kind of workout in the afternoon and by time that was finished, it was almost time for dinner. Since it was so hot in the afternoons, I went swimming with Sergey Luzov (our pistol coach) and Jamie Beyerle, or I played video games on the Xbox with Keith Sanderson and Vinny Hancock. To be completely honest, it was the first time I’ve gone to a normal indoor pool and swam laps. I’m not the best swimmer, but I really did enjoy it. Katy was happy to hear that since she was a competitive swimmer before she was a shooter. She’s been bugging me about teaching me to swim better for a while now… hehehe.

We didn’t get to go and sight-see very much, but that was ok. We were often simply too busy. Last time I was in Korea, I got tired of the food really quickly. No offense to any Asians or Koreans, but I really enjoy Asian food, just not every day. Thanks to some of my teammates and also the Aylwards (our coordinators for the trip), we found some western restaurants that served my dietary needs a little better. Nothing too special – Outback Steakhouse, Bennigan’s, and an Italian restaurant.

Over the week, training was pretty good. I switched to a new shooting jacket and pants back in June and was still adjusting to them. None of my positions were what I would call “perfect” by any means. I played with every position pretty much all week. I was somewhat worried, but I still had almost two weeks until I started competing. That was plenty of time for me to get them working.

One thing that was really, really great about this trip is that the whole team was together – rifle, pistol, and shotgun. Before Athens, it was just rifle and pistol together and we met shotgun in Athens. USA Shooting had a much stronger commitment to team building and team cohesion this go round, which was perfect – and it showed results in 6 Olympic medals. I had such a good time getting to know some of the shotgun shooters better, and even went over and shot a little bit with them a few times! In general, we had a super team. So many great personalities and positive attitudes. That was cool! In fact, I never met or got to know Vinny Hancock until this year. For three years I’ve heard about this crazy skeet shooter who by age 19 had won just about everything except the Olympics! It’s been such a pleasure to get to know him and I’m proud to call him a friend of mine. He’s a super guy and I greatly enjoy spending time around him. Caution to everyone – you don’t want to play anything against him on the Xbox! I have a great time playing, but I lose every time! Keith Sanderson’s no slouch, either.

That was basically our trip to Korea. It was mainly just lots of training and so much built-up excitement to finally go to Beijing and start competing. Finally, on August 6th, we left from Pusan to Beijing. Some of you might be wondering where my wife has been during this whole time. Well, on July 23rd, she flew back to the Czech Republic so she could fly to Beijing with her team. They arrived to Beijing on August 1st and had a week of training there before the Games started. It wasn’t too much fun being apart for two weeks, but sometimes we have to do that since we shoot for two different countries.

Finally we’re in Beijing and we arrive at the Olympic Village. So much anticipation and we’re finally there! Katy told me that the village was spectacular and she did not exaggerate – it was awesome! The apartments and rooms were really nice, the landscaping was beautiful. Everything was top-notch. Something that was important to us was to be able to stay together at the Games. Over the past couple years, when we’re at World Cups and things, that’s what we normally do. If it was possible at the Olympics, we wanted to do the same. Why change anything at the biggest competition? I’m very grateful to the Czech Olympic Committee for making it happen. There were other couples on the Czech team that wanted to stay together, so they put all of us in an apartment together. It had three bedrooms, so Katy and I had one. Yes, it was a little odd staying with a different country at the Olympics, but for both Katy and me, it’s nothing crazy. I feel like a part of the Czech team and Katy feels like a part of the US team. It’s hard for some people to believe, but that’s how it is.

At this point, I was starting to get a little nervous. That’s normal, it’s the Olympics! If you’re not a little nervous, I think you’re either dead or in the wrong place. I was nervous about my own shooting and also nervous for Katy. In Athens, I only had myself to worry about, which is much easier. This time we had someone else to worry about, too. That’s challenging, to say the least, but it’s very, very positive. I was starting to wonder “can I really do this? Am I ready? Have I done everything I could to be prepared?” For Katy, I was nervous for a couple reasons. She’d been having a great year. I’ve never seen her shoot so well in airgun, but her training hadn’t been going so well for a couple weeks. If there is one thing I know about her, though, it is that she has an amazing ability to make it work when it counts. I was nervous in anticipation of her events because I knew something special was definitely possible.

We didn’t go to the Opening Ceremony. Katy had to compete first thing the next morning, so Katy, her dad, and I stayed in the village, relaxed and watched some of the ceremony on TV. From what we saw, it looked unbelievable! We were constantly saying “wow! That is amazing!” Did I miss not being there? No. Not at all. It would have been cool, for sure, but spending the evening with Katy was much, much more important to me.

August 9, 2008: women’s air rifle, first medals awarded of the Games. I was terribly nervous that morning. Probably more so than Katy. It’s always harder to watch the other than to actually compete yourself. The nerves didn’t really hit her until she walked in the range. Her stomach hurt and she just wanted to go home. In fact, she said that’s what she was thinking the whole match: OK, 30 more shots… 20 more… 10 more… I was behind her the whole time. I never left my seat. She started with about 32 straight tens and took a break. She came back to chat with me and her dad. Not about anything in particular, she just wanted a little mental break since her mind was starting to think too much. Then she went back and finished with all tens. A perfect 400 in the Olympics! A new Olympic record that can now only be tied. She’s been complaining that she wanted to shoot a 400 in a big match and she’s been close several times. I always said, “You’re just waiting for a better time for it to come.” Well, it did. I was incredibly happy and proud of her, but now maybe a little more nervous! In the final she did well. Not her best final, but for standing in position 1 in the Olympics, she did great. If I remember correctly, she had the highest final and won the Gold Medal with a new Final Olympic Record! I cannot explain the emotions during that moment. I was on the verge of tears because I was so proud of her and happy that, yes, it worked! All the hard work paid off.

Another thing that made airgun so stressful for me was that my best female friend next to Katy (and also Katy’s best friend next to me), Jamie Beyerle, was shooting near Katy so I could watch both of them. Jamie’s had a rough time with airgun and it’s not been her strongest event. In her first 11 shots she already had three 9’s, but she was shooting really good 10’s. Then she turned on the gas and finished with 29 straight tens for a 397! It was the best match I’ve ever seen her shoot. Her poise and control was simply fantastic. Jamie’s developed so much in the past two years and has worked incredibly hard to be able to put herself in that position. She shot a fantastic match. She was also in the final and I was on pins and needles watching both of them. Jamie also shot a very good final and finished 4th. She just had too much ground to make up on the top three to medal. What an effort. I was proud.

The next 24 hours was pretty crazy. The organizers and jury members were very conscious of our situation and let me sit in the special seating area and let me follow her through the mixed zone where you talk to the media. I went with her to the press conference and sat with her in doping control. We spent the whole afternoon and evening together. That night we went to the Czech house. Most teams take over a hotel in the city and set it up as a place were their athletes can go and others can feel at home. When a Czech wins a medal, they have a ceremony there to recognize them. It was so nice. Really, really first-class. I know it’s a benefit of a small country with nowhere near the amount of athletes or medalists the US has, but they know how to celebrate and make their athletes feel like they’re important and that they really care about how they do. It was a long evening and we were completely exhausted at the end. One of the cool things was that we were able to meet a very famous Czech actor there, Miroslav Donutil. He starred in one of the most famous Czech films, Pelisky. Every Czech knows this movie very well. It’s so funny. We hung out with him for a while, chatting. Nice guy and he speaks English very well.

Then our shotgun team started winning medals, and a lot of them! Corey Cogdell got the bronze in trap in a shoot-off, which was a nail-biter. Then Glenn Eller won double trap and Jeff Holguin finished 4th. I knew both of them would do well and for Glenn, it was a long time coming. His third Olympics and he’s been one of the top for a while. Next, Kim Rhode won her fourth, yes, fourth, Olympic medal – a silver in women’s skeet! Her first three medals came in women’s double trap, which was removed from the Olympic program, so she switched to skeet. Good choice!

Katy was up again on Thursday, the 14th. Women’s 3X20. I wasn’t as nervous for this one because I knew she could do well, but it wasn’t the same as air. In air, she had a great shot at a medal, so there are some external expectations. For 3X20, she’s not as strong and her goal was just to make the final. A medal wasn’t really a thought. A possibility, yes, but not a big one. Well, things worked out pretty well. Luckily, there wasn’t much wind, which helped her. Her prone was decent, and so was standing. Kneeling’s always been her tough one. The girl’s worked hard to build a position that she could shoot and, well, it worked at the right time. She was running short on time, so she didn’t have time to be nervous. Just shoot. She had a great kneeling, ended up with a 586, and walked into the final in 6th. Jamie also had a great day with a 586. She was going into the final in 5th. So, again, I was able to sit in the special area and watch both of them in the final. Both of them shot excellent finals. Katy ended up with a silver and Jamie was 5th, but very, very close to a medal. I was, again, incredibly proud of Katy and at the same time heartbroken for Jamie because she was so close to a medal. This time around, I couldn’t be with Katy after the final. I had training for prone because my competition was the next day. Talk about having a hard time to get my head back on to focus on my game! Wow!

I had finally gotten my position to feel good enough to be confident. I shot 21 shots in training and it was good. Really good. I told my coach, Dave, “If I can do that again tomorrow, good things are going to happen.”

I asked Katy and her dad if we could keep the media stuff and other things to an absolute minimum that day so Katy and I could be together and relax before my competition. They did, and for that I’m eternally grateful. The celebration at the Czech house was rescheduled for the next evening after my prone match. That evening I was nervous. Still not sure if I could do it. Katy and I usually would go for a walk around the village before bed. For some reason, it was really relaxing to walk around outside. It was peaceful. We talked a lot and Katy was amazing in switching her focus to me for my competitions.

I slept OK that night, but not great. Too much anticipation. I was still a little unsure going into the competition, but I was fired up. Now I wanted my chance. I wanted to show what I could do. I was squadded in the middle of the range, which isn’t good. The range isn’t really fair. If you’re on one of the ends you have an advantage with the wind. That was fine with me and I was prepared. The Beijing range is tough. If the wind is blowing, it is very tricky. I had hoped for wind on the prone match because that plays to my advantage. Well, I got my wish. It was the windiest day I’ve seen on that range. The wind blew hard and it switched direction constantly and quickly. I was focused and motivated. In the Olympic Games, I shot the best competition of my life. I finished with a 597 and I told my coach, “It does not get any better. That is the very best I can shoot right there.” I walked into the final in 2nd and was ready. I got a charge of energy walking into the finals hall. Artur Aivazian of the Ukraine was in first, two points ahead of me. In an indoor finals hall, two points is too much to make up. I made up a point, shooting a 104.7. I finished, heard that I was silver and was immediately overjoyed. I wanted that medal so incredibly bad. I have trained for the last four years in anticipation of the Olympics. It worked! That silver is only a medal, but to me it signifies so much. It was hard-earned and I was so happy.

That night not only Katy, but I was invited to the Czech house. The Czechs have taken me in like one of their own and they not only honored Katy that night for her silver, but also me. I cannot explain those emotions. It’s overwhelming. They also wanted to invite my coach and our team leader, Dwayne Weger. Both came. Hehehe, turns out they were in for a surprise! The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Tololanek, was there. So was the Minister of the Interior, Ivan Langer. In addition, all of the top people from the Czech Olympic Committee were present. So all of us got to hang out and drink a little beer with some cool people! Dave and Dwayne were floored. They couldn’t believe it. Neither could I, really! Then something amazing happened. Mr. Langer had something special in mind for me. As minister of the interior, he said he has some pull in certain ways. They want to help make me a Czech citizen. I was speechless. Completely speechless. I said, “You’re joking. You must be joking!” I’m not exactly sure the details of how it would work, but I remember reading somewhere that I’d have to give up my US citizenship to become a Czech. If there’s a way to be a dual citizen, I would be simply delighted an honored. Just the offer is incredibly humbling for me. For those wondering, no, I will not give up my US citizenship if that is, indeed, the case. And I will continue to shoot for the USA. This is my home, but I also have a second home, the Czech Republic.

The next day, Katy and I mainly relaxed and took it easy, but we had to go the range for a little while. We had two guys in finals. Keith Sanderson was walking into the rapid fire pistol final in first place with a new Olympic record. Keith’s a good friend of mine and I wouldn’t miss his final for anything. Unfortunately, Keith’s limited experience got him in the final. He ended up in 5th, but his performance and courage were incredible. He was sad about his finish, but I was proud. He’d worked so hard to get there and overcame a lot. Later, Vinny Hancock was going into the skeet final in first, also. Vinny had a little better luck and in a shoot-off he won the gold medal! Now at age 19, he has won everything you can win and holds not only both world records, but both Olympic records! He is amazing, to say the least!

That evening I was getting a little nervous again. A little unsure if it would work and, again, so much anticipation and build-up. I’d been looking forward to this competition for a long time. I’d done so much to be prepared and I’d been worrying about the final for months. Would I be able to stand there in the final and be in control and shoot like I can? Katy and I again took a little walk and chatted. I didn’t sleep that great, but good enough.

I got to the range that morning and I was in an odd mood. Not terribly nervous, just a little. I guess that since I already had one medal, some of the pressure was off. One thing that kept me motivated, though, was the thought that I would never, ever give up. I would fight like hell until the end. Prone started well. I had a very, very good 399. So far, so good. I was never able to get my standing feeling as good as I knew it could feel, but good enough. I fought through the 40 shots and ended up with a 389. It was tied for highest on the line and I’m proud of that. I pride myself on being the best standing shooter in the world. Kneeling’s always been a struggle for me, but I’ve worked incredibly hard in the last four years to improve my position. I didn’t shoot a great kneeling, but I was satisfied. For the nerves, it’s the best I’ve seen my position react under stress. It makes me feel good for the future. After I finished, I asked Dave where I was and he said 2nd behind Rajmond Debevec. I was happy with that. Walking into the final in 2nd helped keep me on the offensive, which was important for me. I was still nervous about the final, but I’d been thinking about it forever, so now it was time to just go and do it. I got out there and in the sighters, things looked good. Shots I didn’t like were still good shots. We started. I religiously did my mental routine before every shot where I was thinking about shooting at Ft. Benning in training finals. I remember seeing the sight picture so well and I was so calm there. It helped. My first shot was a 9.7 and then I ran seven straight 10’s. I had a 9.8 on my 9th shot. I was shooting a great final and I was in control. Nervous, but in control. It’s the Olympic final, if you’re not nervous, you’re not human! Going into the last shot, I ran my mental routine and reminded myself to take my time and break the shot clean. I was a little more nervous, but when I finally looked through the sights, I felt good about the shot. I was coming down from 12 o’clock, like normal, and as I was getting into the bull, I started to put pressure on the trigger. Then something crazy happened – the gun just went off. I guess my finger twitched and simply set it off. My first thought was “oh, I hope that’s in the black. How can this keep happening to me?” Well, I looked down and it was in the black, but high at 12 o’clock. A 4.4. I was angry at first. Not so much at myself, but the situation. Like I said, what did I do to deserve this again? I looked back at my coach and he said I was 4th. I went back to hug him and then to congratulate the medalists. I hugged Qiu Jian, the gold medalist, and told him a big congrats. He’s a very nice guy and is always very friendly to Katy and me. Then Katy finally made it down to the railing since she was commentating the final for Czech TV. She looked at me and smiled. She said “for some reason, it’s just not meant to be this time.” We chuckled some because it’s just so crazy that there isn’t much else you can do but laugh about it. She said she was proud of me and made her way down so she could go with me through the mixed zone and the media. I slowly made my way through there talking to all of the reporters. Of course, everyone asked “what happened?” and I told the story over and over. One funny part was that there was this Chinese reporter grilling Katy about it and then he looks at me and asks if there is something wrong with my mind. I looked right at him and with a wide grin said,” Dude, I have an Olympic silver and gold medal, and I should have two more gold medals! There is absolutely nothing wrong with my mentality.” That got a real charge out of the other reporters and they laughed. Thankfully, one of the reporters for USA Today printed that in his article. I wrote him about it and thanked him. So, I finally made my way through the mixed zone. As I was walking back to the preparation room, I started to hear clapping. I turned around and saw that all of the reporters, many Chinese volunteers, and everyone else were giving me a standing ovation. It brought tears to my eyes and still does when I think about it. That was incredible.

I went back into the preparation room where Dave, my sports psychologist Sean McCann, and our physio Nick Potter were there speechless. They didn’t know what to say. I’ve never seen Dave like that. He looked like someone in his family had died. I didn’t know if he was angry, sad, or both. I felt like I let him down.

I was told later that among so many who were watching in the finals hall, there weren’t many dry eyes. And that includes many of my competitors who did not make the final. I think Katy and I were the most composed of anyone. Before going through the mixed zone, Katy’s dad came down and his eyes were filled with tears. He didn’t know what to say and neither did I.

And that was that. That afternoon and evening, I was approached by several of my friends from other countries who I compete against at these competitions. All of them wanted me to know that everyone still considers me the best shooter in the world and one shot does not change that. Katy adamantly told me the same and said I was smoking everyone in the final. She was proud. Thank God I have someone like that by my side.

We stayed in Beijing an extra day purposely to do media things. That next day was pretty busy running around and talking to reporters and doing interviews. I have to say that almost all of the reporters who I spoke to in the mixed zone and then afterward were extremely nice. They treated me with respect and mainly said and wrote very nice things. I’m very grateful for that and I thank all of them.

China is an interesting place. Shooting is a big sport over there and it seems like it’s as popular as basketball or football is here in the US. Katy and I were constantly in all of the newspapers for a couple reasons. First, because of our story of how we met and being at the Olympics together and also because we were winning medals on top of it. It’s a good story and they all really like it. No kidding, Katy and I are superstars over there. We can walk down the street in Beijing and Chinese people will recognize us. I cannot describe it well enough to do it justice. Reporters always want to talk to us. Most importantly for us, though, is that the Chinese people like us. They are so respectful and nice. It’s an unbelievable feeling when you’re in their country, not one of their athletes, and they still cheer for you and hope you do well. They’re sad when you don’t do well. That is incredible. Katy and I have been fairly well-known in Czech, but now it’s more so. That’s cool. The only thing that makes me sad is that it’s not the same here at home. No one knows us here in Colorado and few seem to care. That’s a shame. And it’s not about fame – for me it’s about people caring about what you do. It gives you a bigger sense of purpose beyond your own ambitions. I know the shooting community cares and for that we’re grateful. The shooting world is a close-knit “family” and I’m happy to be part of that.

One more thing about all that: don’t worry, fame has not gone to our heads and it won’t. Then Katy and I would become people that we’re not. That’s not our style at all and it never will be.

Remember how I said earlier that I’d revisit the theme of “things happen for a reason?” First, when I missed the airgun team, I said it must be for a reason. The first reason I thought of came true. At the Olympics, Katy had airgun and four days later, smallbore. Afterward, it was my turn. If I had shot airgun, it would have been two days after her airgun match. I said that maybe it was good I didn’t make the airgun team so I could focus my energy on Katy first, then refocus once my turn came. That came true. I thought Katy would do well and she did. It took a lot of energy from both of us. If I had shot airgun, it would have been difficult to bring my best focus. I’m confident I would have done well, but it was easier on both of us the way things worked out. Second, the crazy last shot. Katy and I both said right away that there must be a reason. I guess you could kind of say that with my crossfire at the last Olympics, the good thing that came was Katy. This time, I’m not sure what will come. Things do happen for a reason, now we just have to wait and see what that reason is.

What’s next? Well, our plans are to continue shooting for another four years. We’re still having fun, so why not? The only stipulation I have for myself is I will continue as long as I can still make a living out of it. If I can take care of my family, I’ll keep going, but if I can’t, then I will probably retire. I’ve accomplished a lot in this sport and I do it now for myself and because I love it. If anyone’s still wondering, Katy will continue to shoot for Czech and I will still shoot for the USA. Although we’re at home in either place, our hearts will always remain close to our first home. It would be weird to win a competition and see a different flag going up other than your native country. Beyond all that, we’ll see where life takes us and hopefully there will be a third chapter in four more years!

Again, thanks to all. We’re terribly fortunate for the lives we have and the opportunities we’ve been given. I hope it stays that way. Take care,

Matt Emmons
USA Olympic Shooting Team

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