In 2016, American shooter Kimberly Rhode achieved the unprecedented feat of winning a medal at six straight editions of the Summer Games, going all the way back to her double trap title at Atlanta 1996, aged 17. Now 40 and the skeet world no. 1, she has no intention of stopping any time soon; she is targeting a seventh consecutive medal at Tokyo 2020 and, looking beyond that, victory in front of a home crowd at Los Angeles 2028.
“It’s been amazing, having come to so many Pan-American Games. My first were in 1995 as an alternate in Argentina. And now this is the seventh one. It’s been an incredible journey and I couldn’t be happier, especially to be bringing home the gold for the USA. The next goal is obviously just to keep adding to it. I can’t wait for the Olympics in Tokyo. To be going for that record, seven for seven, definitely adds that element of pressure, but at the same time I’m just excited. Let’s see what happens, and hopefully I’ll do everyone proud,” said Rhode on 3 August 2019 in Lima (Peru), where she had just claimed the Pan-American Games skeet title for the third consecutive time, having once again demonstrated greater accuracy than her rivals in an event in which shooters stand in a fixed position and take aim at clays launched by two traps in a specific order.
There are quotas for this event at the Tokyo Games, but this is no longer an issue for the 40-year-old Californian shooter. Rhode secured her place on Team USA by winning silver at the 2018 World Championships in September in Changwon (Republic of Korea), along with compatriot Caitlin Connor, who took gold.
In 2019, before the Pan-American Games, Rhode won no fewer than three events on the ISSF World Cup programme: in March in Acapulco (Mexico), in April in Al Ain (United Arab Emirates) and in May in Changwon. The latter was her 21st World Cup victory, in a competition in which she successfully hit 122 out of 125 targets in qualification, and 57 out of 60 in the final. In short, on the road to the Tokyo 2020 women’s skeet competition, Kim Rhode is in a league of her own.
1996-2004: Two Olympic double trap golds and a bronze
Rhode’s record of achievements in women’s shooting spans a quarter of a century and counting. The American, who initially specialised in the double trap before switching to the skeet from 2004, has maintained her levels of excellence throughout her career and has no end date in sight.
She was only 17 years (and 5 days) old when she was crowned Olympic champion for the first time, dominating the qualifying rounds and the final of the double trap with two Olympic records of 108 and 141 points, which she set at the Wolf Creek Shooting Complex on 21 July 1996 at the Atlanta Games – becoming the youngest female gold medallist in the history of her sport in the process.
After taking bronze at Sydney 2000, finishing behind Sweden’s Pia Hansen (gold) and Italy’s Deborah Gelisio (silver), Rhode became the last ever Olympic champion in the discipline, winning her second title on 18 August 2004 at the Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre, where she beat South Korea’s Lee Bo-na by a solitary point. Women’s double trap was subsequently dropped from the Olympic programme.
2008-2016: Skeet silver, gold and bronze
“Switching events was one of the more challenging things in my career,” reflected Rhode. “I was competing against people who had been doing it 20 or 30 years.” Nevertheless, she made a seamless transition to her new discipline and, on 14 August 2008, managed to tie with two other competitors in the final at the Beijing Games, achieving an Olympic record score of 93. Italy’s Chiara Cainero eventually clinched the gold in a shoot-off, while Rhode took the silver medal after a second shoot-off against Germany’s Christine Brinker, completing her Olympic podium set.
Four years later in London, on 29 July 2012, shooting at targets from seven different stations in the women’s skeet competition at the Royal Artillery Barracks, Rhode’s scintillating performance saw her hit 99 out of 100 clays, setting a new Olympic record and equalling the world record. At the age of 33, she had won her third Olympic gold medal, 16 years after first topping the podium. “I don't think it has really sunk in yet,” she said, reacting to her victory. “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.” When asked how she had been able to maintain such a high level of performance for so long, she replied that each competition was always a new, exciting challenge for her, and part of a journey.
“Shooting is a sport that you can have a long career at,” she explained ahead of her sixth Games, in Rio. “The oldest medallist in history was Oscar Swahn, and he was 72 when he competed in his last Olympics. I think I have a few more Olympics left in me.”
On Friday 12 August, at the Deodoro shooting range, Rhode came second in the qualification round, hitting all but three of 75 targets. After placing 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. Both Rhode and Weng failed to hit only one target in their match, which had to go to a tie-break. The American edged out her opponent 7-6.
Los Angeles 2028 in the cross-hairs
Rhode’s success in Rio made her the first Olympian to win a medal on five different continents, the first Summer Olympian to win an individual medal at six consecutive Games, and the first woman to medal in six consecutive Games, Summer and Winter combined. “To me, the Olympic Games is all about overcoming the highs and lows, obstacles, the good and the bad,” explained Rhode. “And I’ve always said that bronze is difficult, while gold is easy.”
Three years on, the most decorated female shooter of all time talks about how excited she is to return to competition in the Japanese capital in 2020. “I am obviously excited to look at Tokyo because I am going seven for seven, which is a new record.” But that’s not all. “It also puts me one step closer to the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 – my hometown, with the hometown crowd once again. One of the things I’m really looking forward to at Tokyo 2020 is just the atmosphere, the traditions, the culture, and really just my team-mates, the memories and camaraderie leading up to and through the Olympics. That’s just something I’ve found after going to six Olympics: each one is unique and so different. I can’t wait to see what Tokyo brings!”