LONDON—Move aside, Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz and Wilma Rudolph. Meet the greatest Olympian in U.S. history.
We’ll pause now to let you scratch your head.
On Sunday, Rhode went where no American has ever gone before. The Californian won a medal in an individual sport in a fifth straight Olympics.
It was a gold in women’s skeet shooting. And I know what you’re thinking.
Women’s skeet shooting? That doesn’t count.
Yes it does, and not just because the IOC and the NRA say so. Rhode was born with skills, worked years to perfect them, overcame adversity and excelled under pressure.You know, all the traits we admire in our greatest athletes.
As for actual athleticism, shooting small discs out of the air isn’t quite like doing back flips on four-inch beam. But you try doing what Rhode did Sunday.
In the wind and rain at the Royal Artillery Barracks, she hit 74 of 75 flying targets at one point.
“It’s a bummer to miss a bird,” she said. “But sometimes you just miss.”
Rhode hasn’t missed much since winning a gold medal in Atlanta when she was 16. She got a bronze in Sydney, gold in Athens and silver in Beijing.
By chronological and mathematical standards, Rhode now stands alone in the America’s Olympic pantheon.
Anybody got a number for the Wheaties people?
“It’s truly overwhelming,” Rhode said.
Only four other people have won individual medals in five straight games. They were a Japanese judoka and three German lugers, all of whom are about as well known in America as Rhode.
Her name is pronounced Roadie. She has long blonde hair she stuffs under a cap while competing. On Sunday, her voice squeaked like Mary Lou Retton’s in 1984. Blame it on the occasion.
“The journey for this one was probably my most challenging,” Rhode said.
She had a hard time even getting to London. Flights from Los Angeles were canceled two straight days, so she missed the U.S. team’s training sessions in Denmark.
Her body didn’t have the planned time to adjust to European time. In the precise world Rhode competes in, the tiniest mental twitch can ruin your entire day.
Then there were bigger issues on the road to London. Like a breast cancer scare, and having to adjust to a new shotgun. That may not seem like a big deal, but Rhode had pulled the same trigger for 18 years.
A felonious skeet groupie followed her truck one day. When Rhode stopped for lunch, he broke in hoping to find some of her medals. He didn’t find those, but he did steal her gun.
Police finally caught the guy 18 months later. By then, Rhode had reluctantly moved on to another gun.
“It would be the equivalent of a swimmer going from the backstroke to diving,” she said.
We’ll just have to take her word for that. But when it comes to natural skill, there’s no doubtRhode is as gifted as Michael Phelps.
Her father took her on a hunting trip to South Africa when she was 11. The guides said she was too young to join the safari. Richard Rhode told them to test her.
The guides got a paper plate and placed it 100 yards away. Richard said that was too easy. He told them to make an ink blot the size of a thumbnail in the middle of the plate. Kim hit it five straight times.
“They just started laughing,” Richard said. “They said, ‘Man, she can shoot anything she wants.’”
A lot of prodigies have vanished before making one Olympics. Rhode didn’t waste her skills. She’d get up at 4 a.m. to do her homework and leave time for after-school training.
She’d shoot 500-1,000 rounds a day, seven days a week. She’s long out of school, but the grind’s the same.
“They have me at 3 million-plus targets,” Rhode said.
A lot of hard-working prodigies have shot themselves in the foot when their Olympic chance arrived. Not this one.
“I love that moment of coming down to the last target,” Rhode said.
It didn’t come down to that Sunday. She set an Olympic record with 74 points in the qualifying round, and tied the world record for points in a final with 99.
That was 77 more points than Kevin Durant had Sunday. I realize their targets were different, but the underlying traits are the same.
“Don’t quote me on this because I don’t want to sound immodest,” Richard said, “but the International Sports Shooting Federation called her the greatest shooter ever.”
Sorry, Dad. You deserve to be quoted as much as Michael Phelps’ mother was in Beijing. Just don’t use up your voice in London.
The oldest medal winner in Olympic history was Oscar Swahn. As all shooting fans know, he got a silver in the running deer, double shots competition.
“He was 72,” Rhode said. “I’m 33.”
Have gun, will travel.
Next stop—Rio de Janeiro?
“I’m just taking it one Olympics at a time,” Rhode said.
Somewhere along the way, everybody needs to realize how great she is.
Original article by David Whitley. To see the original article click here