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Three-Time Olympian Rhode Shifts Gears

Friday, January 05, 2007

Photo: Kim Rhode
Although she's had to switch disciplines, Kim Rhode plans to return to the Olympic medals podium in 2008.

The Olympics have become an addiction for Kim Rhode, and she's not about to let politics keep her out of them. Take away the event at which she excels, and the two-time gold-medalist will just master another one. And then she'll see you in Beijing in 2008.

That's the 27-year-old Californian's mindset as she works toward making the Olympic shooting team for the fourth time. Her primary event women's doubles trap is a thing of the past, but she's fully confident that her future includes more trips to the medals podium.

She plans to compete and medal in international skeet in Beijing two summers from now. And if she has her way, she'll do it again in London in 2012, and wherever the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides to stage its quadrennial spectacle in 2016 and 2020, and perhaps even beyond.

Back to her Roots

Transitions are nothing new for Rhode. She was the ladies' world champion in American skeet at age 13 and won her first Olympic gold in doubles trap just 4 years later.

International skeet, with its faster targets and elimination of "easy" incoming shots, is a much more exacting game than the American version. However, her present shortcomings are nothing that a thousand or so targets a day, 7 days a week, shouldn't cure.

"The transition is going great," she said. "It's been much easier than the first one from American skeet to trap.

"It really is like riding a bike you never forget. Yeah, you're a little rusty at first, so maybe you don't ride with no hands, but all of that comes back with practice."

Can't Escape Politics

If asked to name the sports governing organization in which politics plays the biggest role, the IOC would be a hands-down winner in just about any poll of knowledgeable observers. From the selection of the host cities to the procession order for the opening ceremonies, accusations of back-scratching and favor-trading are rampant.

The IOC, comprised of as many as 115 members from around the world at any given time, answers to no one but itself. It doesn't have to fully explain its decisions and often doesn't.

The elimination of women's doubles trap for 2008 is among the many IOC moves that have been shrouded in mystery. Few would've blamed Rhode if she'd thrown a hissy fit, but that's not her style.

Instead, she's written it all off as politics as usual and shifted her focus to another event one that, as far as anybody can tell right now will be contested in Beijing.

She knew before the 2004 Olympics that double trap wouldn't be part of the '08 Games.

"That made winning in '04 kind of bittersweet," she said. "On the one hand, I'd just won the gold medal, but on the other, I knew it was the last time for that event."

Try this for irony: She switched her emphasis from skeet to trap because there were no women's skeet events at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and doubles trap was her only option if she wanted to wear the red, white and blue. Now she has to switch back because the situation is reversed.

Been There, Done That

Some ShotgunFans might be surprised to learn that Rhode shot international skeet at each of the last two Olympics in Athens (2004) and Sydney (2000). Despite very little practice, she came within a couple of misses of taking home two more medals.

She was allowed to compete because she was already on the Olympic team and she'd shot a minimum qualifying score in international skeet at the previous year's World Cup.

"I got bracketed out in Sydney, but in Athens I came in 5th and missed the medals by one bird," she said. "In both cases I was very close to the medals, and with hardly any practice, I was really happy with that.

"Back then it was just a fun thing, or I shot because my teammates needed me. But it's become my main focus, and I think it's a game that can be mastered, just like American skeet. Right now there are people shooting 99s and 98s and maybe an occasional 100, but I think it's possible to shoot 100 consistently."

Photo: Kim Rhode
For international skeet, Kim Rhode shoots the same Perazzi with the same stock configuration that she used for doubles trap. The only difference is she's had a shorter barrel installed for skeet.

A Heck of a Handicap

Rhode's competition gun is a Perazzi 12-gauge (model MX12), but she does most of her practicing with a full-choked .410. The lesser amount of shot and tighter pattern expelled by the .410 force her to be more precise.

She follows the same routine each day break 15 in a row from each station on the field (including doubles). If she misses once, she starts over again at zero.

"I drill stations I don't believe in shooting rounds," she said. "If I'm shooting a round and I miss a target at a station, by the time I get back to it I won't remember why I missed. I might know I was behind it, but I won't know what that picture was.

"Your mind remembers things in pictures. It's like when somebody says banana, you don't think of the letters b-a-n-a-n-a, but you see a picture of a banana. In this game, those mental pictures are everything."

Those pictures must be crystal-clear, and she trains her hands to work in perfect sync with her eyes. If anything doesn't look or feel right, the situation must be addressed immediately.

"If you have any fear or any self-doubt, it'll eat you alive in competition," she said. "If I'm questioning myself at a station, I'll take two flats (500 shells) and stand there and shoot until there's no more doubt.

"I'll shoot and shoot and shoot until all of the doubt is gone."


> Rhode attends Cal Poly Pomona, where she studies animal health science, business and art. Because of her schedule, she didn't enroll in any classes last fall. "My ultimate goal was to be a veterinarian, but that doesn't fit in with the route I'm taking right now. Representing your country is such a phenomenal opportunity, and I'm just taking things one year and one day at a time and trying to enjoy the moment."

> She shoots the same gun with the same stock configuration for international skeet that she did for doubles trap. The only difference was going from a 29 1/2-inch barrel with a wide, flat rib to a 26 1/2-inch barrel with a standard rib to accommodate the closer skeet targets.

> She was named to the Winchester West Coast Advisory Board at age 11 and is still a member of the company's pro staff.

> In addition to her two Olympic gold medals, she also has two from the Pan-Am Games and six from the World Cup.

> She co-hosts the Outdoor Channel program "Step Outside" with National Shooting Sports Foundation president Doug Painter.

Quick Tip, from Kim Rhode: "Point your index finger straight out on the forearm of the gun. Our whole lives we've been taught to point at things look at that dog, look at that car, or whatever. The barrel becomes an extension of your finger if you point it straight out and it gets you a little bit closer to the target."

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