LONDON (Reuters) - Kim Rhode could finish her shooting career as the greatest U.S. Olympian ever but it will be one spent mostly in obscurity defending a sport she maintains is misunderstood.
A gold medal victory in the women’s skeet on Sunday put Rhode into the record books as the first American to medal in five consecutive Olympics, and at just 33 years old, competing in a sport that has seen winners in their 60s, she could easily take part in five more Games before putting away her shotgun.
With gold from London, Atlanta and Athens, a silver from Beijing and a bronze in Sydney, Rhode may be entering Michael Phelps-like territory but there will be no long lineup of television appearances to schedule or massive endorsement deals to be signed when she returns home.
“Shooting isn’t like Phelps or (Michael) Jordan or something, this is more of sport that you can, when you are at the top level, make a living. But it is always a struggle,” Rhode’s father Richard told Reuters. “Shooting is an expensive sport, every time you pull the trigger it costs you money.”
Rhode practices every day firing between 500 and 1,000 rounds, each training session costing between $400 and $600.
Certainly Rhode did not waste any ammunition on Sunday, hitting 99 of 100 targets, breaking the Olympic record and equaling the world mark to win the gold in style.
”I don’t think it has hit me yet but I‘m sure it will, the record and everything it represents,“ said Rhode, who will be back on the range on Monday preparing for the trap event. ”The last few shots I was trying to keep myself from not crying.
“Every emotion hit me at once when I was out there.”
Rhode’s record-smashing day unfolded with guns again at the centre of a polarizing debate in the United States after a gunman opened fire at a movie theatre in the Denver suburb of Aurora earlier this month, killing 12 and wounding 58.
Rhode, a poster girl for the powerful U.S. National Rifle Association (NRA), has faced questions about guns, the people who use them and the link to the Aurora shootings in almost every interview since arriving in London.
“Shooting teaches responsibility, discipline, focus and this is a sport. It’s sad when those lines get blurred by someone who was obviously disturbed,” she said. “Hopefully we continue on a positive path and teach others.”
Richard Rhode introduced his wife Sharon to the sport shortly after they were married, then did the same with his young daughter.
Richard became and remains his daughter’s coach, he and his wife travelling the globe to every Olympics to cheer her on.
“We both shoot, my husband taught me to shoot when we were married,” said Sharon. “We go to the range like other people go bowling and shoot skeet or trap. So Kim was just sort of born into it.”
Rhode was just 13 when she claimed her first world title and three years later was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, taking gold at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.
Later that year she was named one of the Top 10 Sports Phenoms by Time magazine.
”Her eye-hand coordination is very, very good,“ said Richard. ”Even as a child with video games or a computer, what she sees she can make her hands do.
“She very focused and has very good eyesight too.”
Rhode may not stick around as long as Swedish marksman Oscar Swahn, the oldest person to win an Olympic medal when he took a silver at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games at 72, but she definitely has Rio in her sights.
”I‘m not looking at this as my last Olympics,“ said Rhode. ”I can go a very long time, that’s the beauty of shooting.
“It’s not a flash-in-the-pan type thing. I definitely don’t see an end in sight.”
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall