Kim Rhode waves to the crowd at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Kim Rhode made her Olympic debut in 1996 as a teenager, the youngest member of the USA Shooting team in Atlanta. Six Games later, she’s won a medal at each one and has become the only Olympian in history to win a medal on five different continents - and the only female Olympian to medal at six consecutive Games.
Rhode is set to compete at her sixth Pan American Games — seeking her fifth gold medal — in Lima, Peru, which begin later this month. Before that, the accomplished shooter is hitting another milestone: her 40th birthday. In her sport, age isn’t so much a factor, and it’s what has her aiming for at least eight more Olympic appearances.
As she turns 40 on July 16, she reflected on what it was like at her first Olympic Games in the “old days” of the 1990s and how the sport has evolved both inside and outside the arena.
“The sport has grown because of technology,” Rhode said, before heading off to the world championships in Lonato, Italy, where she won two more medals. Rhode captured a gold medal in women’s team skeet and a silver medal in mixed team skeet.
Kim Rhode competes at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 on July 23, 1996 in Atlanta.
When Rhode first made a U.S. Olympic team in 1996, the newest technology out there was email, for those who had access to computers, and a pager each Olympian received to stay in touch. And as each Olympic quad passed, newer gadgets and technology became available.
“In 1996 there were no cell phones, so we all got pagers. Then the next Olympics, we got cell phones,” Rhode said. “Then after that there was Facebook and then Twitter. Now we can stay in touch with everyone much easier and more often.”
Just like technology, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center itself has transformed.
“In the old days, we didn’t have TVs in all the rooms, and the rooms were dorm-style with showers down the hall,” she said. “Everything was state-of-the-art back then, but it’s so much better today.”
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And then there’s the actual sport itself. When Rhode first came onto the scene in the early '90s, she was a skeet shooter, but that event was not yet on the Olympic program when she made her debut in 1996, so she competed double trap in Atlanta, earning gold. She then competed both events at her next two Games, earning bronze and gold in double trap. Her run of skeet medals began at Beijing 2008, where she took silver, followed by gold and bronze at the next two Games.
Rhode has also earned four world championships medals, 33 world cup medals, six World Cup Final medals and five Pan American Games medals.
She’s become the only Olympic shooter, male or female, to shoot trap, double trap and skeet at the Games. It’s not just the switching of events that has changed. There are more TV cameras and more made-for-TV props.
“Now we have microphones, technology, cameras, changing the way you look, outfits for television and other things I never would have thought of when I first started,” Rhode said.
She said now there will be replay, where judges can go back and see if a target was hit by playing video back in slow motion using close-up views.
Kim Rhode celebrates winning her first gold medal at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 on July 23, 1996 in Atlanta.
Turning 40 is no big deal to Rhode, she said. The Californian said she wants to compete in at least “eight or nine” more Olympics, and she wants to match Oscar Swahn, a Swede who won a gold medal in the team double shot running deer event at the 1920 Antwerp Games — at age 72 — to become the oldest Olympic medalist ever.
If she makes it that far, then it’s likely she would compete in as many as 15 Olympic Games, which would obliterate the current record of 10 set by Canadian equestrian jumper Ian Millar, who competed in 10 Games from 1972-2012 — only missing the 1980 Moscow Games because of a boycott.
Rhode has more challenges in getting older, and not necessarily technology or the changing events. There’s the toil of being a mother to a 6-year-old son.
“As you get older you have house payments, car payments and kids you’re putting through school,” she said. “I have other things to overcome than I did when I was younger. Aside from travel, shooting and training, there’s PTA, laundry and crazy hair days at school.”
In addition to parenthood, Rhode has to keep an eye on the younger competition as more shooting programs have sprouted up around the country as the sport gains more interest. Despite all the changes in the past and the challenges moving forward, the goal always remains the same.
“I’m going to stay focused on making the Olympics, and you’re always going for the gold once you get there, no matter what,” she said.
Scott McDonald is a writer from Houston who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.