Kim Rhode makes Olympic history
Kim Rhode became the first US Olympian to medal in five straight Olympics and set an Olympic record hitting 99 of her 100 targets.
LONDON — Under a drizzly gray sky, Kim Rhode on Sunday became the first American athlete to win five medals in an individual event in five consecutive Olympic Games.
She earned a gold medal in women’s skeet, setting an Olympic record and tying the world record by hitting 99 of 100 targets. She also became the first woman to win three gold medals in Olympic shooting.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet, from the time I shot to present, it’s just been a whirlwind of emotions,” Rhode said. “It’s incredible. I’m just waiting for someone to pinch me.”
Rhode, 33, hit an Olympic record 74 of 75 targets in the preliminary rounds at the Royal Artillery Barracks, shattering the 2008 record of 72.
She cast purple plumes in the air as she hit target after target after target, calmly casting her discarded shells into the basket beside her. Realizing she was on her way to gold, Rhode cracked a smile after hitting her 95th shot.
Wei Ning of China finished the event in second place, hitting 91 targets, with Marina Belikova of Russia and Danka Bartekova of Slovakia each hitting 90 targets. Bartekova earned the bronze medal in a shootout.
After Rhode’s final shot, the audience rose to its feet for an ovation, which was followed by Rhode’s tearful acceptance of her medal.
“I don’t think it ever becomes old hat,” she said of the Olympics, adding, “It’s really about the journey.”
Rhode’s path to the record books was not a linear one.
In the four years leading to the London Games, she had a breast cancer scare, and the gun she had used for years — a prized, customized and pricey possession for elite shooters — was stolen from her car after the Beijing Games. It was recovered a year later, but in the interim, she had to adjust to a new firearm, which she likened to a swimmer having to learn a new stroke.
“It was very fortunate to have gotten it back,” she said. The gun she won the gold medal with Sunday was the one that was donated to her when her gun was stolen.
“It’s a pretty amazing story to have so many people who believe in you,” she said.
“The journey to this one was one of my most challenging,” she said. It made her winning of the medal “that much sweeter.”
More recently, Rhode, of El Monte, Calif., faced several flight delays getting from Southern California to Europe and ended up flying directly to London, missing the team training camp in Denmark. The weather during Sunday’s event — wind, changes in lighting and rain — didn’t help either, she said. “In the end, it made me focus that much harder,” she said.
Rhode, who has another competition (women’s trap) in five days, began shooting when she was 10 and is coached by her father.
She began her Olympic career with a gold medal in double trap in 1996 at 17, making her the youngest person to win an Olympic medal in the sport. Then, after the 2004 Games in Athens, women’s double trap, was eliminated from the Games.
Undeterred, she made the transition to skeet and earned a silver medal in that event at the Beijing Games.
She averages 500 to 1,000 rounds a day, seven days a week.
“They have me at 3 million-plus targets under my belt,” she said. “I know at a very young age, I was very focused.”
In addition to being an expert markswoman, Rhode builds and restores antique and muscle cars and is an avid collector of first-edition children’s books, her favorite being “The Wizard of Oz.”
Rhode’s fifth medal elevates her standing in an elite group of medal-heavy American female Olympians, with the likes of Bonnie Blair in speed skating and Jackie Joyner-Kersee in track.
Shooting is a rare Olympic sport known for longevity among its athletes, with competitors appearing on Olympic teams well into middle age. Rhode said she wanted to continue with the sport beyond the London Games.
“It’s something definitely I can do for a long time,” Rhode said, adding that she planned to compete in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. “Right now, I’m just going to take it one competition at a time.”