Turns out UCLA is the Alaska Fairbanks of basketball.
While the Bruins won nine NCAA men’s basketball championships in 10 years from 1964-73 (except 1966) the Alaska Rifle Dynasty won nine NCAA championships in 10 years from 1999-2008 (except 2005).
Nanook shooters also won 15 individual championships, including four by Matthew Emmons, who led the team to four consecutive national championships from 1999-2003. He’s also the only shooter in NCAA history to claim three career smallbore championships.
But his biggest moment, and the moment judged the greatest in UAF sports history, came in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Emmons won a gold medal using a rifle he borrowed after discovering his rifle had been sabotaged prior to the Olympic team trials in April that year. The precisely tuned barrel and action were heavily damaged by what appeared to be a screwdriver, Emmons told the Juneau Empire in 2004.
“I unpacked my gun and I noticed that something wasn’t right,” he said. “Sure enough, somebody had done something to it. I shot it and I couldn’t get the shell out. I said, ‘Something’s wrong here.’ … Somebody took a screwdriver and went in.”
Emmons won gold in the 50-meter prone position using the 22-caliber rifle of former UAF teammate Amber Darland. While Emmons missed the mark and settled for a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics, he was the first UAF athlete to win Olympics gold. (Jamie Gray, a UAF teammate of Emmons in 2003, won a gold medal in the 50-meter three positions at the 2012 Beijing Olympics.) He will get another chance at gold in Rio, his fourth Olympic appearance.
And while the 2004 saboteur of his rifle was never discovered, Emmons said: “I’d like to know so I could shake their hand and say thanks.”
Above Matt Emmons has won many medals, including the first Olympic gold by an Alaska Fairbanks competitor. (Courtesy USA Shooting)