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.
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.
“(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.
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).”
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.