After his most recent Olympic Games at London in 2012, Matt Emmons decided it was time to address some issues.
Though he’d been a successful Olympian, winning a bronze medal in London to go with a gold from Athens in 2004 and a silver from Beijing in 2008, he believed he needed to make some changes to stay competitive.
To begin with, his back was killing him. He discovered he had a bulging disk and muscle imbalances — problems he just powered through in his quest for the London Games. After London he spent six months rehabilitating his back and correcting his posture to avoid future problems.
Then, last year, he made some big equipment changes, switching to a new rifle and ammunition.
“I just couldn’t get a gun in my hands that was competitive,” he said. “And if your equipment’s just not good enough to win, then it’s going to be hard to be successful no matter how good you are physically. It’s like a skier being on the slowest skis you can get.”
Emmons also decided to sharpen his mental approach.
Over the past year he’s been reading new books and re-reading the ones he’s used in the past to help him have the right mindset during matches. He wanted to re-explore sports psychology and refine the mental drills he uses to be able to tune out distractions and focus on the next shot.
“Being able to get in your own world and get the most out of your body, that’s the name of the game,” he said. “In any given situation, things pop into your head or some kind of distraction can take your concentration off of what you’re trying to do.”
Now 34, and with another Olympic Games looming next year in Rio de Janeiro, Emmons is feeling good not only about what he’s done as a shooter, but with his life.
He and his wife, Katy — a three-time Olympic medalist shooter from the Czech Republic — now make their home full time in her home country after going back and forth between the United States since about 2006. They’re comfortable there, and they have a girl, 6, and a boy who soon will be 2.
“I’m really, really happy,” said Emmons. “I wouldn’t say things were rough a few years ago, but I knew they weren’t optimum.”
|Gold medalist Matt Emmons competes in the 50-meter rifle prone men's finals at the Shooting Range Changwon during the ISSF World Cup Rifle/Pistol on April 12, 2015 in Changwon, South Korea.
If Emmons needed some positive feedback that the changes he’s made will pay off, he got them recently in South Korea. Shooting in his first world cup event of the year at Changwon in mid-April, Emmons won gold in the men’s prone rifle, then followed that up with a silver in the three-position rifle. Emmons’ gold medal also secured Team USA a quota spot for the Rio Games.
“To do what I did there honestly surprised me a little bit,” he said. “I knew I was capable, of course, but I didn’t expect to be shooting that well this early in the season.”
It’s a nice start to a very important pre-Olympic year for Emmons. He has a busy competition schedule through the first week of September at the World Cup Final (which he qualified for at Changwon).
He can also win points throughout the world cup schedule that could potentially lock up a spot for him on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
He believes the new equipment, his fitness and his mental approach all figured into his performance in South Korea.
Physically, he feels better than he has in a long while.
He has a routine that includes shooting in the mornings and working out in the afternoons. He does two to three days of cardio (running, cycling or cross-country skiing) and two to three days in the gym, lifting weights and focusing on the core muscles (stomach and back) that help with stability. He also does a lot of work on the muscles in his back and shoulders that help in shooting.
In focusing on his mental approach, Emmons also has been reading a lot about happiness, and he believes that’s also had a positive impact.
“Granted, it’s not something the average athlete would study, but you know, I just like being a happy person,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m here. Why would somebody not want to be happy? It just boils down to a set of skills, and I just wanted to learn more about it. So I’ve been using some of those things, and it’s just helped my outlook, how I approach every day and how I approach training and just life in general.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written to TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.