Kim Rhode: No. 1 with a bullet

April 06, 2011, 11:49 a.m. (ET)

The road to the Olympic Games is never easy.

Kim Rhode should know. She’s been on it four times already.

But the bumps and the turns and the challenges are why the four-time Olympic medalist keeps coming back for more.

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Kimberly Rhode, women's skeet (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

And last week it all paid off. With USA Shooting’s nomination for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, Rhode effectively became the first 2012 U.S. Olympian — and a five-time Olympian. She just needs approval from the U.S. Olympic Committee to make it official.

“No words to describe it,” the California native said. “It’s really exciting and to know this far out I’m super stoked about it.”

With a win at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup last week in Sydney, Rhode clinched the final points she needed under USA Shooting’s new selection process.

USA Shooting members win Olympic quota places for the team at various ISSF events. They fill those quotas and win places on the Olympic team based on their finishes at international competition.

“What (the new selection process) did to Kim was give her something to train for and strive for and drive for,” said national shotgun coach Bret Erickson, who has known Rhode her whole career. “She went out to the first World Cup (in 2010) bound and determined to get points as fast as she could.”

Rhode has racked up six medals at ISSF events in the past 13 months — a run nearly derailed when her competition shotgun was stolen in 2008 — to become the United States’ first Olympian for the 2012 Games. The men’s and women’s basketball teams have secured spots to compete in London but Rhode is the first individual athlete to be nominated.

“It’s just an honor,” Rhode said. “They set up this point system and figured it would take at least two years (to earn the necessary points). So to have done it so quickly, I’m just truly honored in every aspect of it. To have the honor of representing our country for the fifth time, I’m totally stoked about it.”

With the nomination behind her, Rhode can direct her focus to preparing for the Games and breaking a couple U.S. records. Should she medal in London, Rhode would become the first U.S. athlete to medal at five consecutive Olympic Games in an individual sport.

The Games’ shooting events begin July 28, 2012, at the Royal Artillery Barracks in southeast London. Rhode will compete in the women’s skeet on July 29.

That probably won’t be the end of Rhode’s stay in London, though. After earning the nomination, Rhode decided to try to qualify in women’s trap — a new event for her.

“There’s something about that challenging stuff I like,” Rhode said.

“Mainly,’’ she added, “it’s just something that’s going to be fun for me and hopefully, it’s another opportunity for the United States.”

If Rhode adds trap to her London schedule, she’ll become the first American woman to compete in all three shotgun events at the Olympic Games.

But the records and the notoriety and the wins aren’t that important to Rhode.

It’s always been about enjoying her sport and her journey.

“One of the reasons she’s been able to compete at such a high level for so many years is really the pressure of the win wasn’t there,” said Richard Rhode, Kim’s father and coach. “It was for the fun of it. She doesn’t really compete against everybody else, she competes against herself.”

Rhode has tackled each new challenge, each bump in the road, with that attitude.

“I did it because I love it, the sport and everything,” Rhode said. “It hasn’t been an easy road. I think that’s really what the Olympics are about.”

Rhode was nervous going to her first Olympic Games. She turned 17 at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and remembers the heat. And the announcement her event was going on live television to 35 million people. And the nerves. The result was a gold medal in double trap — making Rhode the youngest female winner in Olympic shooting history.

After Rhode took bronze in 2000 and the gold in 2004 in double trap, however, the event was dropped from the Games.

Rhode had to change to skeet or trap. There wasn’t a facility to practice trap near her home in California, so she went into skeet.

“That probably was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, period,” Rhode said. “There’re no words to explain all the emotions.”

Rhode felt like she was starting over. It was a completely different event with a new group of competitors.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she said.

Rhode had little experience in skeet, just as she has little in trap as she prepares for 2012.

At the same time, Rhode took some time off to let nagging injuries heal. Her father said the medical staff had told his daughter more than once her career might be over because of shoulder and arm problems, but she gritted through the pain and continued to compete.

The year of rest helped. Rhode returned healthy and ready for skeet. She set a world record at a 2007 World Cup in Santo Domingo in her first international competition back.

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Silver medalist Kimberly Rhode of the United States poses with her medal after the Women's Skeet Final at the Shooting Range CTF during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

A year later, Rhode earned a silver medal in skeet at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The road to her fifth consecutive Games started rocky. The night before Rhode left for the national selection match in 2008 — which started the selection process she recently completed — her competition gun used in her four Olympic appearances was stolen.

She scrambled to piece together a gun for the match and still made the national team. Afterward, she was able to get two brand-new custom guns made.

“There’s always bumps in the road, and every Olympics is different,” Rhode said. “It worked out for the better. Looking back, I’ve gotten better because of it. It made me stronger.”

Rhode has always been poised and strong. Shooting comes natural after it was passed down from her grandparents to her parents to her.

“I don’t think she knows much else because that’s what we did,” Richard Rhode said.

Kim Rhode’s grandfather moved from Montana to California and brought the outdoors traditions with him. She basically grew up with a gun in her hand, letting dad take the recoil when she was too little.

Rhode was 10 when she went on an African safari and soon started club shooting. That led to higher levels of competition, and a win at the World Championship got the 13-year-old noticed by the national team.

The rest is history. And along the records and wins and medals, Rhode has learned how to balance her sport with her life.

Rhode practices year round, rotating between the ranges near her house to work with different conditions and backgrounds. She won’t slow down after getting the nomination for the 2012 Games. Rhode knows she has things to work on as she moves closer to her goal of a perfect round.

“She said she just approaches it like a job,” Erickson said. “She goes to the office every day. She’s got goals she wants to reach and trains hard to reach those goals and it works for her.

“It’s amazing to see the work ethic she puts in. She just flat outworks everybody else in the world and that’s why she stays on top.”

But she always makes time for her family and her husband and her hobbies — gardening and canning and working on cars. She does charity work and gives talks.

It’s all part of the journey.

“You have to make time for the things that are important to you in your life,” Rhode said.

“I think that’s what life’s about.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Tom Glave is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.