Emmons is former NCAA champ, too

ATHENS, Greece -- Earlier this year, Matt Emmons discovered someone had sabotaged his rifles.

Whoever did it might have helped him win a gold medal.

"To be honest, I think it was a blessing in disguise,'' Emmons
said. "This gun right now is way better than the gun I had.''

Using a gun loaned to him by a training partner back home,
Emmons won the 50-meter prone rifle competition Friday. Christian
Lusch of Germany won the silver medal and Sergei Martynov of
Belarus took the bronze.

Emmons' medal hopes were nearly derailed a few months ago when,
with the Olympic trials just around the corner, he realized he had
a problem.

"I unpacked my gun and I noticed that something wasn't right,''
Emmons said. "Sure enough, somebody had done something to it.''

At first, Emmons thought his rifle was just dirty, but he soon
realized the severity of the damage.

"I shot it and I couldn't get the shell out,'' he said. "I
said, 'Something's wrong here.' ''

Emmons said it couldn't have been an accident.

"Oh no, no,'' Emmons said. "Somebody took a screwdriver and
went in.''

Before the trials, he turned to Amber Darland, who shot with
Emmons in college at Alaska-Fairbanks and still trains with him.

"I used her gun last year at the World Cup Final as well,''
Emmons said. "I knew it would work. I put it in, and it's been
shooting great.''

Emmons, 23, led all shooters after Friday's qualifying round
with a score of 599, which meant that only one of his 60 shots
failed to hit the bull's-eye that is 10.4 millimeters in diameter --
smaller than a dime.

In the final, shots are measured in fractions of a point, with a
maximum of 10.9. With two shots left, Emmons' lead was just 0.3,
but he made back-to-back 10.6s to finish at 703.3. Lusch finished
with a 702.2.

"I wasn't really worried about what anyone else was doing,
honestly,'' said Emmons, the 2002 world champion. "I knew in the
middle it was kind of close.''

Emmons, of Browns Mills, N.J., qualified for three events at the
Athens Games, becoming the first U.S. shooter to do so. He failed
to reach the final in 10-meter air rifle Monday and will compete in
three-position rifle Sunday.

He doesn't know who was responsible for ruining his old rifles --
he only has guesses.

"It's one of those things I've kind of forgotten about because,
I mean, I'll never be able to prove anything,'' he said.

Besides, it's a moot point now. With Darland's gun, Emmons won a
gold medal -- and he knows a reward is in order when he gets home:

"I owe her a really nice dinner when we get back.''

Also on Friday, Lioubov Galkina of Russia won the gold medal in the 50-meter rifle three-position event with an
Olympic-record score of 688.4.

Galkina was second after the qualifying round behind Olga Dovgun
of Kazakhstan. Galkina shot 101.4 in the final to pull ahead, while
Dovgun fell to fourth. Valentina Turisini of Italy won the silver.
Wang Chengyi of China equaled Galkina's final round score, and
jumped into the third to take the bronze.

In women's three-position, competitors fire 20 shots each in the
prone, standing and kneeling positions at a target 50 meters away.
The eight best shooters in qualifying advance to the final, which
consists of 10 shots in the standing position.

Last Saturday, Galkina missed out on winning the first gold
medal of the Olympics. She set an Olympic record in 10-meter air
rifle qualifying, shooting a 399, but lost out on the gold on the
last shot of the final.