In the pantheon of America’s Olympic sports greatness, Kim Rhode has no equal. Not one person competing in an individual sport can boast of winning five Olympic medals in five consecutive Olympic Games.
Capturing a World Championship at the tender age of 13, she catapulted that into an Olympic gold-medal run in Double Trap at just 17 years of age at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The first of many accolades, she’s still the youngest female gold medalist in the history of her sport.
Fourteen years later she was in London on top of her game and gunning for history. Two big things happened to Rhode in lead-up to London, neither of them good. First, her $15,000 gun “Old Faithful” was stolen out of the back of her pick-up after being marked for the taking while out running errands. She also had a breast cancer scare that caused significant concern and interrupted her always arduous training routine. But in the end, not even those setbacks could deter her from achieving Olympic greatness. The way she did it, setting an Olympic and World Record qualifying score and then while on the precipice of history, putting it on cruise-control in a dominant final. She shot women’s trap too afterwards, finishing ninth, and became the first shotgun shooter in the history of the sport to compete at the Olympics in all three disciplines.
Is there any encore for the already unprecedented? With nothing left to prove in her sport and legendary status already achieved, what awaits Rhode’s journey with Rio ahead? As before, the challenges are real. Now a mother after giving birth to son Carter in 2013, she’s balancing motherhood while trying to maintain her place atop the sport. That she can handle no doubt and has demonstrated as much having earned medals in four of the six World Cup events she’s competed in while winning three gold medals during that time. The challenge comes in dealing with the health setbacks that afflicted her all throughout a rough pregnancy and which still continue to be an issue. She had her gall bladder removed six weeks after Carter was born. She’s been admitted to the hospital three more times post-pregnancy for various things including vitamin defiency, the most recent an unplanned visit in Cyprus following her World Cup event in May 2014.
Add to that, she’s shooting with a new gun once again having made a switch to Beretta after 2012 and there’s more competitive depth among her Team USA competitors than she’s ever faced during her career.
The greater the challenge, the sweeter the reward, according to Rhode. She takes great pride in both recognizing and embracing the incredible journey. It’s this premise that essentially captures nearly 30 years of competitive shooting.
“Every medal has been so unique, each tied to a specific obstacle,” said Rhode. It’s not necessarily the medals you cherish, but the journey that goes into it and overcoming those obstacles. Winning is what makes it that much sweeter. The harder the obstacle to overcome, the sweeter the victory. It’s what makes each Olympian come back again and again.”
How much does winning s sixth medal motivate her? “It would be huge,” she admits. “But it’s not about just me. It’s what it means to the sport, to the shooting industry. It’s a huge driving force in that aspect. Personally, I think it would be big, but it’s more about all the other factors. It’s never about that for me. It’s always been about what I can do to give back, move forward and hopefully inspire kids and the next generation.”
She is this generation’s Annie Oakley, but perhaps identifies most closely with a quote uttered by Calamity Jane, another fabled female figure of American western history. “I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one.”
Her status as a legend already confirmed, Rhode’s now working on the next great chapter.