LONDON -- If you want to talk about deep truths, Matt Emmons is your guy.
If you want someone to deliver extreme accuracy under excruciating duress, Emmons is not your guy.
Emmons is the greatest shooter in the history of the University of Fairbanks' great riflery program. On Monday, he did what he's done the past three Olympics in the 50-meter, 3-position rifle competition. He fought his way into contention for a medal, battling successfully against his raging nerves.
And then, on his last shot, he fired the equivalent of a basketball air ball.
This was the story in Athens in 2004, in Beijing in 2008 and in London on Monday.
This time, Emmons at least won a bronze medal. He was proud of his performance, and walked into his meeting with the press wearing the medal around his neck. The what-ifs were hanging around his neck too. They always are with Emmons.
If you expect the former Nanooks star to be crushed, this just means you don't know him.
Not long after tossing away his chance at silver, Emmons spent 25 minutes talking about his daughter, his wife, his victory over thyroid cancer and his path to making peace with his grand and strange shooting history.
At a remarkable press conference Monday, Emmons was honest, introspective, deep and a little tortured. There were a few moments when you wondered if Oprah might join him on the podium.
"Sport is very important of course," Emmons said, "but at the same time if I had to stop tomorrow I've had a great career and I'm happy about the lives I've touched in the sport, but at the same time there are other things in life that are way more important than playing a game."
Emmons has come to this perspective by walking an odd, painful path.
He was one decent shot away from gold in Athens. And shot at the wrong target.
He was one decent shot away from gold in Beijing. And fired before he had fully focused on the target.
He was, once again, one shot away in London, this time from silver. This was his third Olympics, and he's spent the past four years trying to tame his tendency to tumble into a shaky, wild place when the full pressure of the Olympics hits him.
He still struggled to tame himself in Monday's finals. His body was shaking. More importantly, his hands were shaking. He tried talking to himself.
"'You're here for a reason,' " Emmons told himself, trying to calm his nerves. " 'We've made peace with this shot before. We can do this.' "
For a time, this conversation worked. On his seventh, eighth and ninth shots he scored 10.7, 10.6 and 10.5. He was conquering his emotions. He only needed a decent shot to claim the silver.
The 10th and final shot was looming. This was the shot that doomed him in 2004 and 2008. And it was the shot of doom once again.
He shot 7.6 and tumbled to bronze.
Emmons has won three Olympic medals - gold and silver in the 50-meter prone, in 2004 and 2008, respectively - but he earned fame and respect despite his mistakes.
He's the shooter who keeps making huge errors, but the classy way he handles his trials made him a hero. He's a celebrity in a sport that doesn't produce celebrities.
And he is a cancer survivor whose doctor told him not to go to London. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in late 2010, underwent surgery to have his thyroid removed and was competing again in a couple of months.
"After going through a situation like that," said Emmons, now in good health, "just being alive is good."
As he prepared for his final shots, Emmons said, he felt the presence of fans all over the world who have reached out to him to say they admired him despite his troubles.
In a way, he again failed. For the third straight Olympics, he struggled when it mattered most.
But in another way, Emmons again ranks as one of the wondrous lights of the Olympics. No one handles failure with more grace.
"The way I look at sport anymore, it's very important to me," Emmons said. "I love what I do, love being here. I love trying to inspire the next generation, I love being a teammate to my teammates and also my competitors to be there and shake their hand when they do well and be a part of what they're doing, but also there are much bigger and more important things than pulling a trigger and trying to stand on a podium."