American missed target, found love

BEIJING Thu Aug 7, 2008 4:41am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Matt Emmons lost a gold medal with an ill-timed lapse in concentration on his very last shot at the 2004 Olympics yet won a bigger prize a few moments later when his future wife started chatting him up.

The American was one shot from a gold medal in the 50-metre rifle three-position target event when he fired at the wrong target. He was drinking a beer when Czech shooter Katerina Kurkova, doubling as a TV analyst, offered her commiserations.

"I was just sitting there with a friend having this beer and she came over and tapped me on the shoulder and said 'Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?'" Emmons told Reuters. "I looked up thinking 'Wow, she's talking to me?'...It was magic, just magic."

They got married in 2007 and are living together in the Czech section of the Olympic village here. Emmons will skip the opening ceremonies to stay in with his wife, who is among the medal favorites early on Saturday in the 10 meter air rifle.

He will compete in two events later during the Games.

"I've already been to one opening ceremony, in Athens, and it definitely was one of the coolest things I've done," said Emmons, 27. "But if I went over to the opening ceremony, I'd be thinking about her the whole time. She's more important."

Emmons managed to remain astonishingly calm after missing out his second gold medal of the Athens Games by firing at the wrong target. It was a shot heard round the world and has, ironically, raised the level of interest in shooting at the Olympics.

"That's a good thing because it's a cool sport," said Emmons, a trained accountant who has been living in the Czech Republic for much of the last two years, learning how to love the rich Czech beer and its complex language.

"It's a wonderful thing if (missing the target) exposed more people to the sport." Emmons said in retrospect he did not mind the first "cross shooting" violation of his international career because it was good for both the sport -- and his heart.

Emmons said he and Kurkova, who had won a bronze medal in her event, had seen each other at international shooting competitions before their fateful Athens meeting but had never really talked.

"We didn't know it until later when we talked about it. But even before that she said she was attracted to me, that there was something she could feel and I said I felt the same towards her."

It took the missed shot in Athens for her to break the ice.

"We started chatting and hit it off real well. You could see there was something there. We were both in relationships but a year later we saw each other at a training camp and the feeling was still there, even stronger. We couldn't ignore it anymore."

(Editing by Keith Weir)

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