IN TODAY’S WORLD of competition shooting sports, perhaps no name is more recognizable than six-time Olympian Kim Rhode. The California native has secured her place in the record books as one of the most successful shooters in history, with over 50 medals won in six Olympics, 14 National Championships, and 30 World Cup appearances. Her latest win was February, taking home the gold at the World Cup competition in New Delhi, India.
Along with her success on the firing line, Rhode holds some impressive Olympic records. She is the only American to have won six individual medals in Olympic Shooting, she is the first American to earn a medal on five different continents, and she is one of only two Olympians in history to win six consecutive individual medals—and the only Summer Olympian to do it.
Kim attributes much of her success to her family, and to youth shooting programs that provided her the opportunities to get involved with a myriad of shooting sports at an early age.
Kim’s story began in Whittier, California. Born in 1979 to parents Richard and Sharon, Kim is the latest in a line of avid hunters and sport shooters.
“My grandfather was a great shot,” said Kim. “He came from Montana to California at a young age, and with him came the Rhode family history of shooting and hunting.”
Her grandfather taught her father Richard how to shoot. Enrolled in NRA youth programs at a very young age, her father earned marksman and pro-marksman certificates that still hang in his home today.
When it came time, the torch was passed to Kim.
“It was just a natural thing that I should follow in my family’s footsteps to love the outdoors and become a shooter. When I turned 10 years old my parents enrolled me in the Junior NRA rifle program. I shot my father’s .22 rifle, the same one that he learned to shoot with when he was a kid, and I earned Marksman and Pro-marksman just like my dad.”
THE YOUNG CHAMPION
At the age of 10, Rhode tried shooting skeet at the San Gabriel Valley Gun Club. The club had a program where youth could shoot for free, and she took them up on the offer. The experience of shooting moving targets was life-changing, and she was immediately hooked.
It turned out that Kim had some talent. At 13 years old, Rhode took home the title of Ladies World Champion in skeet shooting. Along with her win, she earned an invitation to visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado to attend a Junior Shooting Camp. “I was thrilled with the invitation, but I was too
young to go by myself, so my mother attended with me.”
In Colorado, the coaches introduced Rhode to the Olympic style of skeet known as International Skeet, which, despite being shot on the same field as American skeet, is very different. “It was a humbling experience to go from winning to literally starting over,” said Rhode.
Rhode accepted the challenge, starting over and learning her new sport with enthusiasm. But then the Olympic Committee threw her a curveball: “I made the move over to International Skeet and began practicing every day only to find out that for the 1996 Olympics the only shotgun event for women was Double Trap. So, I started over again!”
Not only did Kim have to learn and master another new shooting sport, but this time she also had to switch from a 20-gauge shotgun to a 12-gauge, in order to reach the more distant targets. Kim had a lot of work to do.
“Practice for me has always been daily,” she said. “Everyday. Seven days a week. Every afternoon or evening after school I was at the range shooting and I would get up at 4 or 5 a.m. to get my homework done.”
Despite the sudden roadblock, and as a testament to her talent and dedication, Kim redoubled her efforts to fine-tune her shooting game and earned a spot on the US Olympic Shooting Team for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
She was just 17.
On July 23, 1996, Kim Rhode made history by winning the gold medal in Women’s Double Trap. Having turning 17 just five days earlier, she was the youngest Olympic Shooting Champion in the history of the games.
“I can’t describe how it feels to stand on the podium with a gold medal around your neck, with your country’s flag being raised while they play the national anthem,” Rhode said.
Since her first Olympic win in Atlanta, Rhode has earned her chance to attend five more Summer Olympic Games. Her next two were in Sydney, Australia in 2000 where she won the silver medal, and then again in Athens, Greece in 2004 where she again took gold.
“I can’t describe how it feels to stand on the podium with a gold medal around your neck…”
“Sydney was a really fun Olympics,” she added. “The Australian people are so very nice. After the Olympics I was invited to visit Arnhem Land in Northern Australia by the elders of the Aboriginal tribe. This is sacred land where only members of the Aboriginal tribe can go. We went fishing on the beautiful
white sand beaches. Australia was one of the most amazing places I’ve had the privilege to visit.”
After the Olympics in Athens the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eliminated Women’s double trap from Olympic competition. Nearly 10 years after switching from Skeet to Double Trap, Kim
had to refocus her efforts back to the sport that brought her early success as a young athlete.
Her next Olympics in Beijing proved to be one of the most challenging. A torrential downpour during the Women’s Skeet competition provided considerable distraction for the competitors.
“Beijing is where my training really paid off,” Rhode said. “Water was literally running off my elbows as I held the gun and called for a target.” In the end, Rhode was standing on the medal platform wearing the bronze proudly around her neck.
Rhode again found success at her next two Olympics. Winning the gold in London in 2012, and the bronze in Rio for 2016. Her win in Rio made her the first Summer Olympian to win individual medals in six consecutive Olympics, and the first American shooter to win six individual medals—and she’s not done yet.
At only 37 years old, Rhode believes she’s got quite a few more Olympic visits ahead of her. While most athletes compete in only one or two Olympics, it’s not unknown for shooting sports athletes to attend Olympic events well into their 60s, or even later—a fact Kim is well aware of.
“Did you know that the oldest Olympian to ever win a medal was a shooter? Oscar Swan from Sweden won a Silver Medal at the age of 72.”
AIMING TOWARDS THE FUTURE
Today, along with training for her next Olympics in 2020, Kim is also actively working on engaging youth in shooting clay target sports.
Now that she is a mother, she’s looking forward to passing down her family traditions to the next generation, and keep the U.S. Olympic dream alive.
“The USA High School Clay Target League is a very important step to promoting the shooting sports.” Kim said. “Clay target shooting requires eye and hand coordination, and focus. This is what makes shooting such a great sport for young men and women.
“The League is an opportunity for young men and women to try a sport that they may otherwise never experience. Not only can young men and women learn a sport for high school or college, but a sport they can enjoy throughout their lifetime.” ✪