Love, sweat and tears: Couples who found love on the Olympic training field

Matt Emmons, who took the bronze medal for the U.S. in men's three-position rifle, and his wife, Katy Emmons, a Czech sport shooter, talk about meeting and falling in love at the Olympics.

When Olympians Matt Emmons and Katy Kurkova met at a beer garden at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, they were both in relationships with other people. Katy, a sport shooter from the Czech Republic team, approached Matt with her father to console him after his disappointing performance in the 50-meter rifle position finals. He had fired at the wrong target and dropped from gold medal contention to eighth place.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I was, but that in my heart, he still was the champion by far,” Katy said on TODAY on Tuesday.

The shooters noticed a romantic spark at the time, but “we didn’t really talk about our feelings,” Katy told TODAY.com on Tuesday following the televised segment. “There was something I really fell in love with. Something clicked.”

Eight years later, Matt and Katy Emmons are happily married — proof that lasting romances can be kindled amid the heightened atmosphere of the Olympics. Their love story is a counterpoint to the usual reports about condom use and scandalous high jinks at the athletes’ village every four years.

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The turning point for Katy and Matt came a year after they met, when Matt’s coach decided to start a training camp for female shooters at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The goal of the camp was to boost the women’s program. Katy, who is a U.S. citizen but competes for the Czech Republic, joined reluctantly after considering retirement.

“After Athens I had no motivation. All the media and press got to me after the Olympics,” she said. “I was 20 back then, and being a medalist from a small country is huge. It was too big for me.”

When he saw Katy train at the camp, Matt convinced her pick up the rifle again in competition. “You haven’t lost anything,” he told her. “You should give it another chance.”

Watching Matt train for the three-position rifle inspired her “because you can see he’s going after it.” His training paid off: Matt picked up a long-awaited medal in three-position when he won bronze on Monday after his final-shot mishap in Athens and a similar incident in 2008 in Beijing. 

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“(Matt) got me back to shooting,” Katy said. “He talks about shooting with such a passion.”

With Katy’s comeback came romance.

“When we saw each other, nothing had changed even though we hadn’t talked in almost a year,” Matt said. “So at that point we decided to give it a go.”

Anthony Quintano / TODAY.com

Matt and Katy Emmons kiss for the camera near the TODAY in London set in front of the athletes' village.

The couple married in 2007, and their daughter, Julia, came two years later. While they agree their daughter will have an active lifestyle, they won’t pressure her to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Even so, Olympic rings may already be in the cards for Julia. 

“The other day, she said to me, ‘Mommy, I can run fast like Daddy,’ and, ‘Mommy, I want to shoot like Daddy,’” Katy said. 

“That seriously made me cry,” said Matt.

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Matt and Katy Emmons are not the only ones who fostered a lasting relationship while training alongside one another at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Rifle shooter Jamie Gray, who won gold in the women’s 50-meter rifle three-position on Saturday, met her husband while training in 2002. However, the sparks didn’t fly between Jamie and Army Marksmanship Unit shooter Staff Sgt. Hank Gray until they met again at the ISSF World Cup in Sydney in 2004. They were married in September of last year.

“We’re on the range together every day,” Jamie told TODAY.com. “We’re both very competitive. It’s nice to have someone around who understands what I’m doing, what the household must be like (to support a training lifestyle).”

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It’s not just training for the same sport in close quarters that breeds romance at the Olympic Training Center. Triathlete Hunter Kemper met his wife, Valerie, a former member of the U.S. volleyball team, while the two were training for separate sports for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Valerie was named an alternate on the U.S. team in 2000 after the two had been dating for about three months, which meant she was not selected to go with the team to Sydney. At that moment of disappointment for Valerie, Hunter pounced, he joked to TODAY.com.

“The day that she got cut we went on our very first date that evening,” Hunter said. “I was definitely a shoulder to lean on, consoling, or like a distraction almost. It definitely gave me the in. Get her while she’s down. She was definitely down.”

Hunter and Valerie now have three sons, and just like Matt and Katy Emmons, they are not necessarily intent on grooming future Olympians.

“My sons are competitive, though,” Hunter joked. “(If) they would be (future Olympians), that would be great. But whatever sport they choose would be wonderful.”

Sarika Dani is managing editor of TODAY.com.

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Discuss this post

A story about an American and a Czech falling in love at the Olympics. And the author so clueless there is no mention of Hal Connolly and Olga Fikotova.

Pathetic Olympic coverage. Thanks, NBC, for continuing the poor coverage into the blogosphere, too.

  • 2 votes
Reply#1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 6:07 PM EDT

So what if they don't mention EVERY couple YOU, the GREAT AND PERFECT ONE, can think of. I can think of something pathetic, and it is not the coverage.

  • 4 votes
#1.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 7:35 PM EDT

I agree that the coverage isn't too great.

    #1.2 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 12:03 PM EDT
    Reply

    Or Robert and Cathy Zagunis, who met on the US Olympic team in 1976. Daughter Mariel has two golds.

    I agree that the coverage is pathetic. All Michael Phelps all the time. And for the first week you'd think that they only hold about four sports at the Olympics.

    • 2 votes
    Reply#2 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 6:27 PM EDT

    The 4 sports were soccer, tennis, basketball, and volleyball (all kinds). I was only interested in the soccer and tennis, and they kept me going. I had to stay up from 8 pm to midnight to get cold leftovers of everything else.

      #2.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 6:57 PM EDT
      Reply

      Awww, so sweet. Two Cheaters getting married after screwing around and lying while their significant others were home, unaware, and rooting for them.

      • 2 votes
      Reply#3 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 8:29 PM EDT

      Awww, so compassionate, so understanding...Is that all you got from this? What a dumb attitude, but then you are probably very happy with it.

      • 1 vote
      #3.1 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 9:41 PM EDT

      You are a pathetic loser! 'Nuff said!

        #3.2 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 12:06 PM EDT
        Reply

        .

          Reply#4 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 9:41 PM EDT

          Who gives a fak?

          • 1 vote
          Reply#5 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 10:27 PM EDT

          To the people above....

          They got out of relationships with other people. It does not say they were sneaking.

          The story is called "human interest". By definition, you would not be interested.

          • 1 vote
          Reply#6 - Tue Aug 7, 2012 10:38 PM EDT
          john1367Deleted

          Believe in Love, Sex and Magic (says Ciara and Justin Timberlake - you can YouTube that.) I also believe it's "I don't give a Feck" if we are talking Olympic coverage :) The only thing I noted objectively from this article is that "Katy, who is a U.S. citizen but competes for the Czech Republic, joined reluctantly after considering retirement." I immediately questioned how many US citizens compete for other countries, and if so, why? She has a Czech name though, so it wouldn't surprise me if she had duel or primary citizenship in the US. I digress, it's a lovely article on how two people with something in common became an item that may survive our current self-concentric cultures. Good for them though for raising a child and encouraging it to be active, and I wish them great happiness for their future!

            Reply#8 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 12:46 AM EDT
            Meruja OwoDeleted
            Reply

            I guess the stories about about the wild sex were wrong.
            The NBC Today show did a segment this morning on the party life during the London Olympics.
            Sex and condoms were not mentioned.

              Reply#9 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 9:00 AM EDT

              They order 100,000 condoms for the Olympic village and they could only find ONE couple who fell in love and got married??? Sounds like love is actually as extremely rare as people thought.

                Reply#10 - Wed Aug 8, 2012 5:46 PM EDT
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