BY BETSY BLANEY
Matt Emmons is a cancer survivor hoping to atone for a pair of costly blunders in Olympic shooting events. Teenager Race Imboden is seeking the first men’s foil medal for the U.S. since 1960. World No. 1 Brady Ellison is hoping for the country’s first archery medal in 12 years.
Check out the smaller sports on the Olympic docket, and there are plenty of compelling stories and medal prospects on the American side.
Glenn Eller and Vincent Hancock are hoping to defend their Olympic shooting golds from 2008. Shotgun specialist Kim Rhode could become the first American athlete to medal in five straight Olympics. Married shooters Sandra and Eric Uptagrafft are set to represent the U.S. in different disciplines.
World No. 1 Mariel Zagunis is seeking her third consecutive Olympic gold medal in saber, and the men’s team wants to improve on its silver finish in Beijing.
Medal chances are slimmer in field hockey, triathlon, modern pentathlon and badminton, but the Americans could deliver some surprises.
The U.S. has been without a team handball entry since 1996, when men’s and women’s teams automatically qualified for the Atlanta Games through their host country status.
Here is a closer look at a handful of the smaller sports on the London schedule:
The U.S. is poised to add to its Olympic-best 103 shooting medals, including 50 golds. The London team, subject to trials, is expected to include four Olympic champions.
Eller won the double trap and Hancock took the skeet competition in Beijing, making the most of the knowledge they gained in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. Rhode won gold in 1996 and 2004. Emmons earned the 50m rifle prone gold medal in 2004 and the silver in 2008, but is perhaps best known for shooting at the wrong target in Athens and his rifle accidentally going off in Beijing — robbing him of two more gold medals.
Emmons also was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and had his thyroid removed, making him even more of sentimental favorite this time around.
Other medal hopefuls include; Joshua Richmond, the world champion in double trap, Jason Turner, a 2008 bronze medalist in air pistol and Eric Uptagrafft, who was ranked No. 3 in 50m rifle prone. Sandra Uptagrafft will compete in pistol.
U.S. fencers won six medals in Beijing and could exceed that number this summer. The United States — not Italy, not France, not Russia — is the only country that qualified the maximum 16 fencers for the London Olympics.
Zagunis is still going strong eight years after she won in Athens for America’s first fencing gold medal in 100 years. The 19-year-old Imboden, hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., is ranked No. 4 in the world and won six gold medals in individual or team competitions last year. Lee Kiefer, the youngest member of the team at 17, snapped a long drought for U.S. women when she medaled in foil at the 2011 World Championships.
The U.S. also could medal in a couple of the team competitions. Tim Morehouse and James Williams are the key players on the saber team that won silver in Beijing, and the men’s foil group handed Italy its first loss in more than a year earlier this season. The women’s epee group is coming off a strong performance in the World Cup.
The U.S. is without a medal in archery since 2000, but that should come to an end this summer.
Ellison is a strong contender for top spot on the podium in London. He won the World Cup final in 2010 and 2011. Last year, he became the first archer in the world to win three consecutive World Cup stages.
A top-three finish for the American team of Ellison, Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie is a more challenging task. South Korea’s men’s team has won three consecutive gold medals.
First-time Olympian Miranda Leek, ranked seventh in the world and just 19, has an outside shot in the women’s individual competition. She won an individual event and helped the U.S. to a victory at a world ranking stop in Phoenix, and she placed fourth at a World Cup stage competition earlier this year.
Two-time Olympian Jennifer Nichols and four-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig also qualified for the U.S.
The American men have won only two medals (both in Sydney in 2000) since winning two golds in 1996. No U.S. archer made it past the quarterfinals in Beijing.
Tony Gunawan is set to compete in his first Olympics since he became a U.S. citizen last year. He was part of Indonesia’s gold medal-winning doubles team in 2000, and won the world doubles title in 2001. He then immigrated to the U.S. and won America’s first world title with Howard Bach in 2005.
Gunawan, of West Covina, Calif., will team with San Francisco-native Bach again this summer. Bach is competing in his third games, and a quarterfinals appearance would be a good showing for the duo.
The only other qualifier for the U.S. in badminton is Rena Wang, of Arcadia, Calif., who is ranked 57th and will compete in the women’s singles in her Olympic debut.
The U.S. women’s team is part of a loaded Group B for the London Olympics which also includes gold medal-favorite Argentina, former Olympic champs Germany and Australia, plus New Zealand and South Africa. So the Americans aren’t expected to contend for a medal, but they do have a surprising showing last year for inspiration.
The U.S. punched its Olympic ticket with a 4-2 victory over Argentina in the Pan American Games final in October. It was the country’s first victory over Argentina since 1987. Argentina had won each of the previous six Pan American competitions.
The 2008 Beijing squad finished eighth, and seven women will make their second Olympic appearance. Midfielder Katelyn Falgowksi was the only American to make the world all-star team last year.
Margaux Isaksen is seeking a rare medal for the U.S. in modern pentathlon, one of the more obscure Olympic competitions. But she had mononucleosis earlier this year and it affected her stamina in training and competition.
Isaksen was 16 when she finished 21st in Beijing and showed improvement by winning back-to-back events in October and qualifying for the final round in every World Cup event she entered, except for one in April during her recovery from mono.
U.S. Army Spc. Dennis Bowsher might be the only other American in the event unless the U.S. gets spots from a reallocation from other countries in mid-June. The 29-year-old Dallas native is 44th in the world, and qualified for the London Games with a fourth-place overall finish in last year’s Pan American Games in Mexico.
Gwen Jorgensen leads the American group for the triathlon, which has yielded a lone bronze medal for the U.S. since the event was added to the Olympics in 2000.
Jorgensen, a collegiate swimmer and runner who completed her first triathlon in March 2010, finished second at an International Triathlon Union World Championship Series event in London last August — on the same course that will be used in the Olympics. It was the best-ever finish for a U.S. woman and qualified her for London Games.
Sarah Groff finished third in the ITU rankings last year for the first-ever series podium finish by a U.S. athlete, and Laura Bennett, who finished fourth in Beijing, also could shine in London.
The men’s prospects are not as bright. Hunter Kemper is back for his fourth Olympics, while 28-year-old Manual Huerta, who fled Cuba in 1997 and became a U.S. citizen when he was 20, is in the games for the first time. Kemper and Huerta rank No. 27 and No. 35, respectively.