As an Olympian, Kim Rhode has done it all.
She’s been to five summer Games, won five medals — including three golds — and nearly achieved perfection in her last match in London.
Now, at age 33, she and her husband, Mike Harryman, are expecting their first child, a boy, who’s due in May.
So with all she’s accomplished and the fact her life is about to change in a big way, it might be a safe assumption to think Rhode might be contemplating retirement, right? What does she have left to prove?
Her answer: everything. The accomplished shooter has her sights on competing in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games and she still believes she can refine her skills.
“Definitely, there’s a lot of room for improvement,” she said. “So you’ll see me get better.”
When Rio comes around, Rhode and her shotgun will be at the ready to defend her gold medal won in skeet at London. She’ll be 37 for the Opening Ceremony, but that’s nothing for a shooter.
“As I like to say, the oldest medalist in the history of the Olympics was a shooter,” Rhode said from her home in the Los Angeles area. “His name was Oscar Swahn. He was actually the oldest gold medalist to ever medal.”
Swahn, from Sweden, won a gold in 1912 at age 64 and earned a silver at age 72 in 1920.
“So I still have a few years in me,” she said, laughing. “I try not to think that far ahead. I try to take it one at a time. That’s a long ways out there.”
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Still, Rhode said her new role as a mother isn’t going to keep her away from what she loves. She plans to take a few weeks or months off from training after her son arrives, but then said she hopes to be back competing by the end of 2013.
She knows her life will be a little fuller and perhaps more hectic with a baby, but counts her husband, family and friends as a great support system that will allow her to continue to train, travel and compete. She knows her life will change — “anybody that says it doesn’t isn’t telling the whole truth,” she said — but she’s determined to make the U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.
“Obviously my main focus is my child, but at the same time, there are many mothers out there that work and juggle everything, and I think I’ll probably be just one of them,” she said.
Rhode has been an Olympian for half her life. She went to her first Games in Atlanta in 1996 as a 16-year-old in the Opening Ceremony, then turned 17 just five days before her first shooting competition in double trap. She won gold in Atlanta, a bronze in Sydney and a gold in Athens in double trap. When double trap was dropped for the 2008 Games in Beijing in favor of skeet, Rhode took a silver in that event and then a gold in London.
That’s one reason she says she has a lot of room for improvement: she still feels like a newcomer to skeet. Plus, the skeet competition will be changing, with alterations to the way the targets are thrown. So, she still believes she has much to master in skeet.
“I haven’t shot that perfect score yet,” she said.
Yet she came as close as a shooter could possibly come. In her final match at London, Rhode hit 99 out of 100 targets, an Olympic record. She’s hit 100-of-100 in practice and competition but never in the Olympic Games.
She was so intent on going for the gold that she didn’t realize she was setting an Olympic record until she was at her last station.
“When I new that I had cinched a medal, it was like, ‘OK, don’t cry, now we’re going for the record. Don’t cry, you know, because you won’t be able to see the bird.’ ”
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Rhode has been back from London for several months now, yet her life continues to go full speed.
She’s still training, but she also has been home for just one or two weeks total since London because of speaking engagements, autograph-signing events, tours with sponsors and even participating as a grand marshal at some parades in communities near her home. Plus, she got involved with politics this summer and was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention.
She said it’s been a gratifying time, however, because she’s been able to put the spotlight on her sport and do things that are meaningful to her.
Now comes a new chapter in her life, complete with a child and her hope of getting to Brazil.
To Rhode, more Olympic experiences just spark her drive to have even more Olympic experiences. Being part of a large family of shooters and friends is hard to step away from. And the London Games were the most enjoyable ever, she said, because she was more relaxed, took in more sights and experiences and soaked in every moment.
“One thing that keeps each Olympian coming back again and again and again, and I’m no exception to that, is really the journey,” she said. “Overcoming the obstacles when people say you can’t, overcoming those bumps in the road.”
In the years between Beijing and London, for instance, the shotgun she had used for years was stolen (later recovered), and she had a breast cancer scare after finding a tumor (later found to be benign).
“I think just overcoming and continuing and not giving up,” she said of the draw of the every-four-years quest. “That and then making it and being on that podium. It’s addicting and it keeps you coming back and wanting more. And representing your country. I mean, it’s a huge honor just to make the Olympic team.
“So it’s been a lot of work, yeah, definitely no doubt about it. But I think overall, the people, the enjoyment you get from the competition and the never giving up is what keeps Olympians coming back again and again.”