Emil Milev has taken his medals, including a silver from the 1996 Olympics, to his physical education class at B.T. Washington Elementary in Tampa.
His students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, look at the 5-foot-11, 181-pound teacher from Bulgaria and are quick with questions.
"Most of them ask if I play football," says Milev, 48. "Because that's what they know, and that is what the most they see."
What they've found out is that Milev is not a soccer player but a shooter — a rapid fire pistol champion — and will compete in his fifth Olympics beginning July 27 in London. But after participating in four Olympics for Bulgaria, this is the first time he'll wear the red, white and blue of the United States.
Milev, who became an American citizen in 2009 after moving here in 2005, said this trip will be extra special.
"It's a completely different feeling," said Milev, who lives in Temple Terrace. "With all the change, coming to another country and going through the struggles to adapt and adjust to the change … I'm an amateur (shooter) now. I have a full-time job, I practice in my free time, and it's a lot more exciting, I think, to do it this way."
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Milev's passion for shooting was sparked when the native of Sofia, Bulgaria, was 15 and tried an air pistol with a few friends at a club.
At first he didn't care about the results. But as they competed — and Milev got better — so did his interest.
"Slowly the scores of everybody around the club started raising," he said. "In a couple years, I was on the national team already. It was really exciting."
In rapid fire pistol, an Olympic event since 1896, there are five targets 25 meters (a little more than 27 yards) away from the shooter. Participants, who fire a .22-caliber pistol with one unsupported hand, go through several timed sessions of eight seconds, six seconds and four seconds. The targets are divided into concentric score zones, with 10 being the most central, the bull's-eye. The total maximum score is 600 (60 total shots).
The sport is all about rhythm, Milev said, and a big help to his shooting is the 10 years of violin lessons his mother, Vania, had him take. Milev quit the violin, and his mother bought in to a shooting career. "I think she accepted it after a few medals," Milev quipped.
Milev's first Olympics were 1992 in Barcelona. He brought home a silver medal from the 1996 Atlanta Games. He also competed in 2000 in Sydney and took fourth, and in 2004 in Athens, finishing eighth.
"Shooting is unique to probably any sport," Milev said. "It's not a sport you can pick up and be an Olympic champion in two years. It's pretty rare."
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Milev has gotten to travel the world thanks to shooting, and getting his first taste of America in the mid 1990s led him and his wife, Anina, to decide to move their family here. They wanted a better life for their children, Philip, 14, and Alexa, 8.
"When we got the opportunity 10 years later, we just did it," Milev said. "It was a really nice experience all over, from the beginning."
It was a year and a half process to get a green card and move. The Milevs arrived in America in 2005, picking the Temple Terrace area partly because that's where his coach, Vladimir Chichkov, lived after moving to the United States from Bulgaria in 1996.
Milev said the transition was difficult. He had to find a job. He started as a substitute teacher at B.T. Washington. His children were going to school without knowing English well. Milev was more proficient because of his traveling, but working with kindergarten to fifth-grade kids was "a little scary at first."
"In coming from a different culture, it's not easy to do that step," he said. "But (the school) did it and stayed behind me, supported me all the time."
Anina Milev — she and Emil have been married 21 years — also got a substitute teaching job. Philip and Alexa adjusted quickly to American culture, and they were excited to go to see fireworks on the Fourth of July two weeks ago.
Says Emil: "It's getting more and more like our holiday."
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Milev continued to shoot after arriving in Temple Terrace but mostly for fun and didn't think about another Olympics. He had a full-time job, had to support his family, and shooting is the second-most expensive Olympic sport, next to equestrian, said Katie Yergensen, USA Shooting public relations manager.
But USA Shooting saw Milev's potential and helped pay for his ammunition. Milev practiced Saturday and Sunday mornings, as well as a couple of hours after school twice a week at Shooting Sports on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. Shooting Sports allowed him to use half its range without paying extra.
"I'm grateful," he said. "They didn't do it because I may one day be in the Olympics. They were just nice people."
Milev became a citizen and member of the U.S. national team in 2009. His scores returned to the elite levels, and he won the gold medal at the 2011 national championships and the 2011 Pan American Games, and bronze at the 2011 World Cup in Munich.
Yergensen said Milev — one of two American rapid fire shooters competing in London — is not only a tremendous talent but a great ambassador for the sport. She said that on a survey, Milev was asked to pick three people, dead or alive, with whom he would want to have dinner.
"He chose his wife and two kids," Yergensen said. "He's almost too good to be true."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]
Birthdate/place: May 2, 1968; Sofia, Bulgaria
Coming to America: 2005; became a citizen in 2009
Home: Temple Terrace
Family: Wife Anina; children Philip, 14, and Alexa, 8