Kim Rhode refused to let tears of joy well up in her eyes after realizing she’d taken an insurmountable lead in Olympic women’s skeet.
“I remember telling myself, ‘Don’t cry.’ ” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to see the birds; they’d be blurry.”
With two pulls of the trigger to go, Rhode still had her sights set on scoring 99, one shy of a perfect 100, to tie the world record and break the Olympic record of 93 which she held with two other shooters.
Rhode, 33, of El Monte, Calif., also shot to the top of several lists.
With her fifth Olympic medal, Rhode became the first U.S. athlete to win an individual medal in five consecutive Olympic Games, moving ahead of such big names as Carl Lewis and Al Oerter.
Basketball player Teresa Edwards, the chef de mission for the 2012 U.S. team, accomplished the feat in a team sport from 1984-2000, and swimmer Dara Torres medaled in five non-consecutive Games.
Rhode's third Olympic gold medal is the most by a female shooter — she also has a silver and a bronze to complete the set.
And Rhode’s not done. “A 72-year-old, Oscar Swahn (of Sweden), won a silver medal in shooting (in 1920), so I have a few more years in me,” Rhode said. “That’s one of the great things about shooting is that you can do it for a very long time.”
Rhode also skis, snowboards, skydives, line dances, collects rare books and antique cars and is a gourmet cook, but she still finds time to shoot up to 1,000 targets a day in training. To prepare for the conditions in London, she traveled to Oregon and shot when everybody else had left the range because it was raining.
“They think I’m crazy,” she said.
The practice paid off. Rhode’s victory at the Royal Artillery Barracks was the most dominant in Olympic shooting history, based on margin percentage of first place over second, according to historian Bill Mallon.
Wei Ning of China was second with a score of 91, followed by world-record holder Danka Bartekova of Slovakia, who scored 90 and won a shoot-off with Marina Belikova of Russia.
“Being out there is something that I relish,” Rhode said. “I really enjoy that one target is going to make-it-or-break-it type feeling. It’s just something I was born with.”
On a day that began in sunshine, turned rainy, and then cleared up for the final, Rhode made 65 straight shots in the three 25-shot preliminary rounds before missing.
“The one that got away I wish I could come up with, ‘The sun was in my eyes’ or ‘The rain hit my glasses and blurred it,’ ” Rhode said, “but it just comes down to sometimes you just miss.”
Never having shot 100 in competition in skeet — an event she picked up when double trap was eliminated from the Olympic women’s shooting program after 2004 — “I guess it just leaves something for 2016,” Rhode said. “When you miss a bird, you really just try to focus on, ‘What did I do?’ and correct it, so you don’t make the same mistake twice.”
She didn’t, going through the final a perfect 25-for-25.
“She was on auto-pilot,” U.S. coach Todd Graves said. “When you’re out there shooting and you see people missing and your lead just keeps getting bigger and bigger, then it starts taking the pressure off of you just a little bit, you can relax and just drive on and go.”
This was Rhode’s first Olympic Games with her new gun. The gun she used in the previous four Games, “Old Faithful,” was stolen out of her car after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and although it was subsequently recovered, she had gotten used to a new gun donated by a stranger whose identity remains unknown.
“The record and the history, it’s amazing,” said Rhode, who produced her own personal trading pin, licensed by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has a blinking red light in the gun barrel. “The Olympics are very near and dear to my heart. Representing your country is no small task. It’s incredible to have them cheering for me so loudly in the stands. It’s almost like they’re helping me pull the trigger each and every time.”
She’s certainly not resting on her laurels. Rhode will compete in trap on Saturday — for another first. She will be the first Olympian to compete in all three shotgun disciplines (skeet, trap and double trap).
If Rhode wins a medal in trap – an event she rarely practices because skeet is her focus — she would tie speed skater Bonnie Blair and track and field athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee for most individual Olympic medals with six.
If Rhode has had golden dreams lately, it could be partly due to the gold tinsel she’s worn in her hair the past few months “just for fun.”
“One thing I’ve learned about the Olympics, it’s really about the journey, the good, the bad, the in between,” she said.
This has been quite a month for the Olympic champion. About a week before leaving for London, Rhode added a 14th car to her collection — a 1928 Model A Roadster, and unlike her other cars, she doesn’t have to do a lot of restoration work.
By the way, not one of those cars has a gun rack.
Then on Saturday, the day before competition, Rhode found a rare Beatrix Potter book from 1911 to add to her collection of more than 4,000 old first-edition children’s books.
But all was not rosy. “My husband lost his passport,” Rhode said, “and found it about two days later after making an emergency appointment to have a new one made. It was a challenge. And then my 4-month-old toy poodle I rescued actually ate my plane ticket. It’s an unbelievable story, but it’s really true.”
When she finally arrived in London, though, she said, “I’ve never felt as good at the Olympics, so I was very happy coming into this with this type of ease.”
Her father, Richard, who is also her coach, said Rhode hasn’t burned out in 23 years in the sport because she shoots for “the fun of it.”
He said he and his wife Sharon told their daughter at an early age “that there’s nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it and there’s enough time to do everything. We’ve lived up to it and she has, too.”
Five times over.
Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.