The sheer precocity of this month’s Modern Great, Kimberly Rhode, has already guaranteed her a place among clay target shootings greatest champions, writes Vic Harker.
The youngest female Olympic gold medallist in the history of shooting, her medal haul now amounts to three gold, a silver and a bronze and she is still only 33 years old.
Born in Whittier, California in 1979 she now lives in El Monte and it was her grandfather, a successful cattle rancher from Montana who first brought the Rhode family to the Golden State. “It is from my grandfather and father that I inherited a Westerners traditional love of hunting and shooting,” she says, and her inherent skill with both rifle and shotgun was evident from her earliest years.
Joining the NRA shooting programme aged 10 she quickly discovered Skeet for which her aptitude was immediately apparent. Progressing quickly from local club competitions, at the age of 13 she won the World Women’s Championship for NSSA Skeet. Her confidence and ambition growing all the time, Kim was already competing in Olympic Skeet and this incredible teenager was setting her sights on the Atlanta Olympics in three years time. There was however the problem of Double Trap being the only event in the Olympics open to women in this period. A problem for some but not for Kim, her facility to adapt effortlessly to a completely different discipline was another indication of a truly great talent.
Having gained experience and some success in the Pan American Games, Kim made her European Double Trap debut in a World Cup Final at Munich in 1995 she was placed seventh. At the subsequent World Championships in Cyprus she made the final and was placed fifth with 107 + 25. In Olympic year Kim moved up a further gear, sixth at a World Cup in Suhl, first at a second event in Lonato and third in the Olympic prelim shoot at Atlanta. At the Games she made history and won the gold medal. Established now on a world stage, between the 1996 Olympics and the next in 2000 Kim collected no less than six more medals in ISSF events, three gold and two bronze in World Cups and a silver in the 1998 World Championships.
With the 2000 Olympic Games to be staged in Sydney, women again had the opportunity to compete in the Trap and Skeet events following the long campaign on their behalf led by Susan Nattrass.
Kim didn’t hesitate; an opportunity to represent her country in two disciplines was an irresistible challenge. Apart from any other considerations wasn’t the sheer hard work of training for two events too much? “I keep fit for my sport,” Kim says. and it seems she is quite capable of shooting up to 1,000 targets a day and for a greater part of her career that’s what she’s been doing. At the Australian Games Kim was placed seventh in the Skeet event missing the final by a target. In Double Trap she took silver. Two medals in two Olympic Games, only 20 years old and her career had just begun. Kim had already acquired sponsors including Perazzi and Winchester who were pleased to be associated with her success. Her original Perazzi MX12 was stolen in 2008 and though it was eventually recovered, she now uses a MX2000 custom stocked by the Wenig Company in Missouri.
In between Olympics Kim was still on the world circuit and hunting down medals wherever she could: a gold for Double Trap in Perth in 2003 and another at the Pan American Games in Mexico in the same year. Kim however is anxious to stress shooting for her is not just about winning. “The competition, sure I enjoy it,” she says, “but it’s also the people and the places I get to meet and to visit”.
With the 2004 Games in Athens looming, Kim again qualified for Double Trap as well as Skeet. She trained hard as she always does and going into the Games as Double Traps reigning Champion she had the added incentive of wanting to retain her title. She did so and convincingly, 146 ex-150 earned her a third Olympic medal in three Games. In the Skeet event Kim made the final and finished fifth. She was disappointed but being the World’s number one Women’s Double Trap shooter was compensation. That was until the ISSF announced there would no longer be a Women’s Double Trap event in the Olympics.
It was a bitter blow to the extent Kim quit competition for over two years. Not that she’s the kind of girl who sits around and mopes; her boundless enthusiasm for life encompasses her work with young shooters. She is an active and voluble ambassador for the ATA’s scholastic clay target programme that recruits and encourages young people to compete in the Olympic disciplines. She is also an avid supporter of Kids & Clays Foundation which hosts clay target competitions to raise money for families who have nowhere to stay when their children are hospitalised.
In 2007 with the Beijing Olympics only 12 months away Kim’s competitive instincts were reawakened. With Double Trap no longer an option Kim returned to her first love, Skeet and started to put in some serious trigger time. Her training programme involves more than shooting round after round, she does not move to the next station unless she’s hit all the previous targets and if she hasn’t she starts all over again. “Drilling stations helps,” she says, “it builds muscle memory and fixes the sight pictures in your head”.
A gold medal at the World Cup final shoot in San Domingo earned Kim her ticket to the Chinese Olympics. Making the final in Beijing Kim was two targets behind Italy’s Chiara Cainero and tied with Christine Wenzel of Germany.
Kim’s 23 placed her in a three way shoot-off for gold with the Italian and the German and she came away with silver her fourth Olympic medal. Once again when circumstances demanded Kim in a very short time had become a full time Skeet shooter and demonstrated she was more than a match for the very best.
In 2010 at Munich she won her first World Championship in an ISSF event. “Everything had gone wrong for me in World Championships before” Kim says, “illnesses, accidents you name it, so it felt good to nail that one”. Her good form carried over into 2011, two World Cups earned her a gold and silver and at the World Cup final in Al Ain she took gold again.
Olympic year 2012 started well for Kim, at the World Cup shoot in Tucson she took gold with the near perfect score of 99 ex-100. Onto London for the Olympic prelim and in the pouring rain she finished ninth. “I never shoot well in the prelim” she says “but use it to get a feel of the ranges so that everything is familiar when I come back for the Championship”. At the London Olympics Kimberly Rhode’s performance in the Skeet event was magisterial, the best of the best were there competing but throughout the competition nobody came close to her. Going into the final with 74 ex-75 Kim was ahead of her nearest rival by six targets. In the final Kim never wavered in her progress towards a third Olympic gold medal, another 25 straight finally placing her eight targets clear of Ning Wei. “I really wasn’t aware of where I was in the competition” Kim says, “I didn’t look at the scores and as for breaking records I didn’t give it a thought, I was just shooting one target at a time. As for winning or losing my attitude nowadays is that whatever happens my husband and my family are still going to love me”.
Nevertheless she intends to continue to compete in future Olympics because she loves to. Meanwhile in the past few months she’s been on another campaign trail, both socially and politically aware she supported the Republican Mitt Romney for President of the United States in the recent election. Whatever your politics it’s an advantage to have Kim on your side, as her intelligent and articulate address to the Party Convention demonstrated.
So, what next for this truly remarkable woman? Well motherhood for a start, Kim and her singer/songwriter husband of three years, Mike Harryman, are expecting a baby and according to Kim’s calculations it would seem she was just the tiniest bit pregnant when she won her fifth Olympic medal, is this another achievement for the record books.