Skeet shooter Kim Rhode confesses to being a history junkie. Ask about her family tree, and she’ll give you a verbal history that digs into America’s past.
Her bloodlines trace directly to the Battle of Little Big Horn and the invention of the Morse code. She speaks with pride, and awe, of her ancestry.
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Rhode said.
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And someone will one day try to fill her shoes.
Rhode has competed on six U.S. Olympic teams, winning six Olympic medals in the process. Fencer Janice-Lee Romary is the only other American woman to have competed in six Games, a range that spanned from 1948 to 1968. She died in 2007.
Rhode, meanwhile, is very much still competing — something she doesn’t expect to change any time soon.
Rhode quickly dug into the annals of her history knowledge to cite Oscar Swahn, a Swede who won a silver medal in the team double shot running deer event at the Antwerp 1920 Games — at age 72 — to become the oldest Olympic medalist ever.
|Kim Rhode shoots in a training session prior to the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Shooting Centre on Aug. 4, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.|
“When I look at him and look at my own career, it’s nothing to keep marching ahead,” said Rhode, who’s a neophyte at 37 compared to Swahn’s feat. “I could have at least eight or nine more Olympics in me. I honestly don’t see an end in sight for me.”
Rhode doesn’t just make it to the Olympic Games, she thrives on the world’s biggest stage. And it hasn’t always been as a skeet shooter.
She won her first three Olympic medals while competing in double trap — gold in 1996 and 2004, bronze in 2000 — before winning three skeet medals when women’s double trap was dropped from the program: silver in 2008, gold in 2012 and bronze in 2016. In the process, Rhode became the first person to win Olympic medals on five separate continents and the first woman to medal at six consecutive Games.
Things have changed in the sport of shooting, and Rhode evolved as well.
“When you talk about change, in Atlanta I was the youngest person on the team and the youngest to medal in the 1996 Olympics,” Rhode said. “When I started, it was me and a couple other people considerably older. Now I’m one of the older people.”
The fundamentals of her Olympic journey, however, remain intact. “To be any type of Olympian you have to have that passion, and you have to love what you do to truly be successful,” she said. “I think shooting has to do with hand-eye coordination, and a lot of it comes to practice and trying to be prepared as much as you can.”
She said the sport has grown to encompass all different walks of life. Whether it’s gender, size, age or even disability, she feels just about everyone is “on an equal playing field.”
“That’s one of the beautiful things about this sport. You can go out on the range and see kids, people in wheelchairs, and you see jocks,” Rhode said.
Like so many athletes who take up the sport, Rhode learned through family outings of shooting and hunting. Guns and shooting have been passed down through several generations in her family, and Rhode can tell the story of a great, great grandfather as if she witnessed history in the Old West.
George Rhode was born in Germany, and Kim said he fought in the Franco-Prussian War prior to moving to the United States, where he joined the U.S. Cavalry and was one of 25 men handpicked to fight with Lieut. Col. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“I do a lot on our ancestry, so I hired some genealogists to make sure it’s 100 percent correct,” Rhode said. “And everything matched. He is a part of my lineage.”
That’s on her dad’s side. Her mom has a direct bloodline relation to Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph and co-inventor of the Morse code. Once again, Kim verified the historical connection.
Kim grew up in the greater Los Angeles area and still lives there today, so naturally she’s rooting for her hometown to get hosting rights for the 2024 Games.
“I really hope LA gets it in 2024. I would love the hometown crowd,” Rhode said. “I had a little taste of the Olympics in America in ‘96, but in my hometown would be incredible. We don’t have any international shotgun events here.
“I do this for the love of the sport, and I think any Olympian will tell you that.”