Welcome Home Kim Rhode!
After a stint in London, and breaking records, this Monrovia girl is finally home.
With another Olympics behind us, we look back at the most exciting moment. It may be viewing Gabby Douglas twist and turn in an amazing display of mid-air acrobatics and somehow landing perfectly on her feet. Or, maybe watching the U.S. Woman’s Soccer team kick their way to a gold medal? We also can’t forget the dynamic duo of Misty-May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings slamming volleyballs across the beach to become champions for a 3rd and final time.
Something unique did stand out at these Olympic Games. Sorry Mr. Phelps—the women ruled! Women athletes captured an astonishing 2/3rds of all the medals won by the U.S. And somehow, in between the Queen jumping out of a copter with James Bond, and the Spice Girls riding the roofs of London taxis, Monrovia’s own Kim Rhode, quietly and tactfully, became the first U.S. athlete to win medals, for an individual event, in five consecutive Olympics.
Overshadowed by other events such as gymnastics, swimming and track and field, Rhode pulled off this amazing feat in a sport that takes great patience, a steady hand and an eagle eye—skeet shooting.
While growing up in Whittier and following family tradition spanning 3 generations, Rhode started competing in target shooting at local gun clubs at the age of 10. “The first time I remember shooting, I was sitting on my dad’s lap. We were in a lawn chair and he had the gun tucked under my arms, I would fire and he would take the recoil,” Rhode recalls. “It was something I remember just falling in love with—the moving targets, the fun of the outdoors, shooting cans and paper plates—it was fun and it just progressed.”
Soon after, Rhode soon found herself competing with a 22 rifle in local and state events, then advanced to moving targets and skeet shooting. At 13, she won the World Shoot competition and an Olympic coach took notice. Despite her age, the coach made an exception and invited her to the Olympic training center. It was there she learned international style shooting, the style used in the Olympics. “It was exciting and such an honor for me,” Rhode said. “I realized that it was about representing your country. I knew I had a chance at it, but I didn’t know I would be doing it five Olympics later.”
Rhode entered the Olympic ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996, at age 16, and walked among stars like Andre Agassi, Kerri Strug, Carl Lewis and the Dream Team. “You don’t know what’s going to happen and what to expect and it’s so overwhelming,” she said. “I don’t really think you take it all in and realize what you’ve done until you get home.” With her trusty Italian-made Perazzi MX-12, she appropriately named “Old Faithful,” Rhode took home her first gold medal just a few days after turning 17. “Old Faithful” came through, and so did Rhode’s amazing skill. She would take both with her to the next 3 Olympics, winning the bronze in Sydney in 2000, the gold again Athens in 2004, and the Silver in Beijing in 2008. But, soon after returning home in 2008, “Old Faithful” was gone—stolen from her father’s car. “It was heartbreaking. I was devastated,” Rhode said. “At the same time, you have to pick up the pieces, move forward and make the best of a bad situation.”
Fans showed their support and, through anonymous donations, Rhode’s was able to get a new Perazzi 2000. With a bit of amazing luck, “Old Faithful” was recovered by police prior to the London 2012 games, but Rhode decided to retire her and went on to the games with her new gun. How’d she do? She hit 74 of 75 targets in the qualifying round and then went on to tie her own record in the final round securing her for her 3rd gold medal.
As for setting her record among U.S. athletes, Rhode is modest. “I don’t think you ever look at yourself as the best or the number 1 in anything,” she said. “Heck, my hat wouldn’t fit if I thought like that. The reality is that you just think of yourself as everyone else. No different.”
Rhode said she feels old seeing Kerri Strug as a commentator now, when she was there when she competed in dramatic fashion. At 33, Rhode certainly isn’t old, but unless your Carl Lewis or Dara Torres, most Olympic athletes in physically demanding sports tend to hang up their cleats and swim goggles by a certain age. But, in Rhode’s case, she has an advantage. As long as she has the will and the skill, she can compete for sometime to come. “In shooting it’s a game that isn’t necessarily about strength as it much about endurance, hand/eye coordination, muscle memory and experience in the elements,” Rhode said. Rhode pointed out that the oldest person to compete in the Olympics was Oscar Swahn, who competed in Belgium in 1920 at age 72. His sport? Shooting. For Rhode, “I’m going to take it one at a time,” she said.
For, now she will enjoy spending time with her family, her husband Mike and roaming around her favorite town—Monrovia. “I love the atmosphere in Monrovia and the fact that everything is so close. You can go to the market, the movie theater and go get some great food at Café Massilia,” Rhode said. Rhode also enjoys riding around town with her husband on their beach cruisers. My guess is she’ll be cruising her way to Rio in 2016.