Emmons arguably world’s best rifler
Only four-time individual national champion, 2004 gold medalist
FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Rifle is not a normal NCAA sport. From the way it is scored to it being co-educational, rifling functions on a different wavelength. It would also surprise many that Alaska-Fairbanks has won 10 national titles, which ranks second behind West Virginia (14).
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The Nanooks' rifle dynasty has produced 62 All-American shooters, who have collectively earned 131 All-American accolades, but there is one former student-athlete that took this program and the sport to the next level.
Eight-time first team All-American Matt Emmons, who was a member of the Nanooks' rifle program from 1999-2003, is the only four-time individual national champion. He has won smallbore three times (2001-03) and air rifle once (2001).
He was part of one of the most dominant runs in the sport since its inception in 1980 in which he and his teammates won the team title in each of his four years. Before and after Emmons, the Nanooks were on the map as they won the national championship for a string of six years in a row and nine of 10 from 1999 to 2008.
“Many people don’t understand the importance of having the right types of personalities, a diversity of skill sets, strong leadership and a great community supporting you,” Emmons said. “We had all of those things which created an incredible synergy within the team. That is why our team was so strong. One of the things I will always take great pride in is the fact that I believe we got the most out of every individual in the classroom and on the range. It was really fun to be a part of it.”
But it wasn’t just athletics that brought the New Jersey native all the way to Fairbanks -- academics played as equal a part in his decision to become a Nanook.
“I wanted my major to be in business, and specifically accounting,” Emmons said. “UAF had a good business program and I liked the professors I met during my official visit. When I was going through the process, UAF was the only school that had exactly what I was looking for athletically to help me achieve my goals while in college and afterward.”
Following his outstanding collegiate career, Emmons’ accomplishments on the range and in the classroom prepared him for the next level as he hit the global stage and became a member of the United States Olympic team.
He captured his first Olympic gold at the 2004 games in Athens, but due to his rifle being sabotaged in the April before the Olympics, he spent weeks attempting to put together another gun that shot well, to no avail.
It was a former teammate, Amber Jordan (formerly Darland, now the wife of Alaska’s current head coach Dan Jordan), who loaned him her gun to compete with, and the rest is history as he went on to win the gold. But it wasn’t the only time he used her rifle. In fact, he still uses it today.
“I was actually thankful that someone sabotaged my gun and Amber was so kind as to let me borrow hers because her gun was better than my old one,” Emmons said. “After the Olympics, we made a deal that whenever she retired from shooting, I would get her gun back. Amber retired from shooting in the fall of 2005 and I gave her my old gun in exchange for hers. I’ve used that rifle in competition ever since.”
Since then, Jordan's gun has helped Emmons to four smallbore national records for the Olympic disciplines, set a world record, won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, and three World Championship medals along with other World Cup medals.
“Personally, it means a lot to me to have been a Nanook,” Emmons said. “To me, these words and phrases are synonymous with being a Nanook shooter: striving for excellence on and off the range, teamwork, family, helping those around you become better, community support, and pride.”
Emmons, a 2008 inductee into the Nanook Hall of Fame's inaugural class, now turns his attention to the 2012 Olympics in London this summer where he will attempt to win a third medal. But it may not have been possible had he never come to Alaska or if the NCAA didn’t support the sport of rifle. For that, he is extremely grateful.
Chris Brooks works in the media relations department at Alaska-Fairbanks.