Rhode's drive for 5 capped by skeet gold medal
LONDON -- Step aside, Carl Lewis.
You, too, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Al Oerter.
Meet Kimberly Rhode, the first American with individual medals in five straight Olympics, after a golden, record-setting, nearly perfect performance.
Rhode won the women's skeet shooting Sunday, tying a world record and setting the Olympic mark with 99 points -- meaning she missed once in 100 shots. She was eight targets better than silver medalist Wei Ning of China and nine better than Slovakia's Danka Bartekova, who topped Russia's Marina Belikova in a shootout for the bronze.
Rhode won in double trap at Atlanta as a teenager in 1996, took bronze in that event four years later at Sydney, re-claimed the gold at Athens in 2004 and won the silver in skeet at Beijing in 2008.
Now, golden again.
"It's just been an incredible journey," said Rhode, strands of glitter intertwined with her blonde hair. "And ultimately, I couldn't be happier for bringing home the gold for the United States."
Lewis, Oerter, Joyner-Kersee and Bruce Baumgartner are the other Americans recognized as individual medal-winners in four straight Summer Olympics. Rhode's at five now, and at 33 years old, she's not planning to stop anytime soon.
"I would like to learn from her," said Wei, the silver medalist, looking at Rhode and smiling.
Rhode becomes the eighth U.S. woman with at least five individual Olympic medals -- speedskater Bonnie Blair and Joyner-Kersee each have six, while Shirley Babashoff, Janet Evans, Shannon Miller, Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin also have five.
Pretty good company, by any measure.
"No one has ever shot 100 in this style of shooting," said Bartekova, who has a 99 in competition. "With Kim shooting like this, it's not going to take a long time."
Rhode was a perfect 25-for-25 in each of the first two qualifying sessions, then ran her streak to 65 straight hits before her lone misfire. Several people who braved a chilly rain day at the Royal Artillery Barracks sighed in disbelief at the miss, which Rhode shrugged off with ease.
"I just missed," she said.
She didn't miss again. The sun came out for the final round, which she entered with a four-target lead -- that's a lot -- and by the midway point of the medal competition everyone knew it was over. All that was left to decide was whether she would tie the world mark of 99, and if she would hold back tears long enough to see the final few orange 4-inch clay targets whizzing about at 60 mph.
"It's been an overwhelming experience," Rhode said. "Every emotion hits you at once."
So did a slew of memories -- some good, some not.
Rhode has dealt with her share of issues, like her gun being stolen after the Beijing Games (an anonymous donor provided a new one worth about $20,000, and police eventually recovered the now-retired first one) and a cancer scare. Others weren't so daunting, like having her poodle eating her air ticket to London -- "the dog likes paper," said Sharon Rhode, the shooter's mother -- and having to scurry to replace her husband's lost passport.
Everything worked out. And on Sunday, things couldn't have worked out any better.
"Unbelievable, isn't it," said her father and coach, Richard Rhode.
Kim Rhode was 10 when she starting shooting competitively, and the sport is simply not cheap. Her parents -- both shooters -- supported the plan even if it meant major financial sacrifice along the way.
"We still owe on our house," Richard Rhode said.
"We've refinanced it so many times," chimed in Sharon Rhode.
"But what do you do when your child has a dream?" Richard Rhode continued. "I think people do that. They sacrifice for their kids. And we wouldn't change a minute of it. All we can do, pardon the pun here, is bite the bullet."
Shooting is essentially her full-time job. She's trained seven days a week since January -- even on the day she flew to the London Games -- and plans to be back on the range Monday. The bill for shells and targets can reach $700 a day, some of which is covered by sponsors, and she's still making enough cash to enjoy other things in life.
She's collected thousands of children's books, some rare first-editions. She's trained in gourmet cooking. She has 14 classic cars, most on racks in a warehouse at the back of her parents' property. She built a 1965 Shelby Cobra. A few days before the Olympics, she bought a 1928 Ford Model A four-seat convertible.
Is there anything she can't do?
"I can play guitar better than her," said Mike Harryman, Rhode's oft-humbled husband. "I have to say that because everything else, she does better. I bowled a 186 once. I thought that was the best score ever, and she scored a 215. She's even better at fishing."
It's almost like Rhode saw this coming.
As a kid, Rhode got invited to stay and work at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. And one day, athletes in residence were asked to write down everything they could not do.
Rhode didn't move.
"The coach says to her, 'Why aren't you writing?" Richard Rhode said. "And she goes, 'Well, I don't think there's anything I can't do if I put my mind to it.' And he stopped everybody from writing and says 'That's what will make an Olympic champion."
He was right.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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