Shooters with Alaska connections -- by marriage or college choice -- impressed Saturday as the first gold medal of the Beijing Summer Olympics was awarded.
Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic, the wife of Fairbanks shooter Matt Emmons, won the 10-meter air rifle while former UAF shooter Jamie Beyerle of Lebanon, Pa., just missed a medal, finishing fourth, just ahead of the defending Olympic champion.
Katerina Emmons finished with an Olympic record of 503.5 points after shooting a perfect 400 in qualifying. Lioubov Galkina of Russia won the silver and Snjezana Pejcic of Croatia took the bronze.
The big surprise was a fifth-place finish by China's Du Li. She won the event four years ago in Athens. Du was just a point behind Emmons after qualifying.
Du was greeted with a roar from the fans in the upper balcony of the shooting range when she came out for the final. She turned to face the crowd with a wide smile on her face, waved and bowed before heading over to her lane. However, she misfired immediately in the final round, scoring only 9.8 points on her first attempt, the worst shot of any of the eight finalists.
Competitors can earn up to 10.9 points per shot in the final.
Emmons won by 1.4 points, a comfortable margin for the event. She entered the final shot all but assured of victory.
Her husband was in a similar spot four years ago in the three-position rifle event. He missed out on a gold medal because he fired at the wrong target on that final shot.
After the gaffe, the former Katerina Kurkova, impressed by the classy way Emmons handled the situation, complimented him. Before long, they became a couple and now are married.
Beyerle and Matt Emmons were teammates at UAF in 2002-03, when Emmons was a senior and Beyerle a freshman.
"She did good, especially (in the) weaker of (her) two events," Dan Jordan, UAF's current rifle coach, said Friday. "Fourth, you hate being just out of the medals.
"She's much stronger of a smallbore shooter. For her to do that well in air gun gives her a lot of confidence going into smallbore."
Beyerle, 24, of Lebanon, Penn., will compete in the three-position competition on Thursday. She dealt with the unexpected blow of not making the 2004 Olympics by becoming even more determined, and isn't satisfied merely participating in Beijing, Jordan said.
"Her whole focus has been to prepare to go and shoot world-class scores," Jordan said Thursday. "Her goal or the (U.S. Olympic) trials and nationals was to shoot world-class scores, not just to win, and she shot really well. ... She's sitting pretty good for winning a (Olympic) medal."
Matias Saari of the Fairbanks News-Miner contributed to this report.