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Double trap and skeet shooter Kimberly Rhode is the first athlete – male or female – to win medals at six consecutive Olympic Summer Games in any sport, a feat she achieved between Atlanta 1996 and Rio 2016 and which only Italian luger Armin Zöggeler has equalled in the Winter Games.
Born in Whittier, California, Rhode discovered her passion for shooting as a young girl, on family safaris to Africa. Specialising in double trap, she won her first world title at the age of only 13 and had barely turned 17 when she became the youngest ever gold-medallist in her sport, dominating the qualification round and the final at Atlanta 1996 with respective scores of 108 and 141 points.
After winning bronze behind Sweden’s Pia Hansen and Italy’s Deborah Gelisio at Sydney 2000, Rhode became the last ever women’s Olympic double trap champion at Athens 2004, beating the Republic of Korea’s Lee Bona to the gold medal by a solitary point.
The event was then dropped from the Olympic programme and replaced by skeet. Reflecting on the enforced change, the American commented: “Switching events was one of the more challenging things in my career. I was competing against people who had been doing it 20 or 30 years.”
Undeterred, Rhode made a seamless transition to skeet, in which shooters stand in a fixed position and take aim at clays launched by two traps in a specific order. After tying with Italy’s Chiara Cainero and Germany’s Christine Brinker in the Beijing 2008 final with an Olympic record score of 93, Rhode eventually had to settle for silver after two shoot-offs, with Cainero taking the gold.
Her medal collection complete, Rhode set her sights on winning another Olympic title at London 2012. Her plans to do so received a major setback in 2009, when her trusty Perazzi shotgun, which had accompanied her at her first four Games, was stolen. Her fans clubbed together to buy her a new gun, and though she and her favourite weapon, which she nicknamed “Old Faithful”, were reunited a year later, she chose to compete with the new gun in London. The decision proved to be inspired.
Rhode was in typically majestic form in the British capital, winning gold with a joint world-record score of 99 (out of 100). It was the third time the 33-year-old had topped the Olympic podium, sixteen years after winning her first shooting gold at Atlanta 1996.
Reacting to her fifth Olympic medal, she said: “I don't think it has really sunk it yet. It has just been a whirlwind of emotions. I want to run, scream, cry and jump up and down. I just don't know which one to do first.” Asked as to the secret of her prolonged success, she replied: “I don’t think it ever becomes old hat. It’s really about the journey.”
“Shooting is a sport that you can have a long career at,” said Rhode, contemplating what her future might hold after London. “The oldest medallist in history was Oscar Swan, and he was 72 when competed in his last Olympics. I think I have a few more Olympics left in me.”
After winning gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Rhode booked a place at her sixth Olympic Games in commanding style, winning the US trials in Arkansas in May 2016 by a whole 14 points from her nearest challenger. “Six Games – it’s incredible! I’ve been training hard since the end of May, knowing that I’m on my way to Rio,” she commented. “Watching my sport grow has been an amazing experience.”
The American began her bid for a sixth Olympic medal by hitting all but three of 75 targets in the qualification round – good enough for second place. Fourth in the semi-final, she took on China’s Weng Mei in the bronze medal match, with Italian duo Chiara Cainero and Diana Bacosi contesting the gold, which went to Bacosi.
Each hitting all 15 targets in their shootoff, Rhode and Weng were only separated in a tie-break, with the American edging her opponent 7-6 to make it six consecutive Olympic medals in individual events on five continents, an achievement unprecedented in the history of the Summer Games.