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Kim Rhode captures fifth Olympic medal in skeet shooting

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LONDON — Kim Rhode had been up on an Olympic medal podium before, but each time, the feelings never seem entirely familiar or easy to process. There she was again Sunday — just like in Atlanta, Barcelona, Athens and Beijing — bowing down while a medal was slipped around her neck. And just like the other four times, the emotions all hit Rhode at once.

“I wanted to run, scream, cry, jump up and down,” the 33-year old shooter said. “I just didn’t know which one to do first.”

For most, the Olympics aren’t about a single day of competition. A gold-medal performance encompasses a lifetime of training, energy and tears, years bottled up, shaken in a few stressful hours and unleashed at once. And while Rhode made history skeet shooting Sunday, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in individual events at five Olympics, she said this journey to London was much different than the others.

From Atlanta, when she won gold just five days after turning 17, to Beijing, Rhode (pronounced Road-ee) had been using “Old Faithful,” a custom Italian-made Perazzi MX-12 competition shotgun. But just a few weeks after returning to her California home from China, somebody smashed a window in her father’s car and stole the gun.

“The emotions that hit you when it’s gone are incredible,” she said. “Like, ‘I have to start completely over again.’”

The relationship between a gun and a shooter is tricky to explain. Not only can a competition shotgun cost $20,000 or more, but shooters are particular about their equipment. “Old Faithful” had been with Rhode through all four Olympic appearances — butted against her shoulder through more than a million targets — and the mere thought of firing another gun was disconcerting.

“It’s like a shoe,” Rhode said. “If something doesn’t fit you exactly right . . . you’re definitely going to know it.”

Within weeks, though, anonymous donors had stepped forward and purchased Rhode a new gun: a Perazzi 2000 S. When authorities later found “Old Faithful” in the home of a convict on parole and Rhode was reunited, she opted to retire her old gun. She brought her donated replacement shotgun to London and together they put on a show Sunday.

Out of 100 possible targets, Rhode hit 99. She set a new Olympic record in the morning’s qualifying round with 74 hits out of 75. She was perfect in the final to tie her own world record. Rhode was so good that gold was secured early in the final round, and the shooter was already near tears at Station 6, knowing she had locked up a fifth Olympic medal.

Despite the wind, rain and changing light, she stayed focused, though, going through the motions without even thinking. With her finger on the trigger, nothing else exists — not “Old Faithful” back home in a safe and not the breast cancer scare from earlier this year (a two-inch tumor was removed and found to be benign). Just her, the gun and the target.

“It’s like walking,” she said. “When you walk down the street, you don’t think, ‘Right, left, right, left.’ You just do it. For me, today was very easy.”

Rhode averages 500 to 1,000 rounds a day, seven days a week.

“She runs it like a six- to eight-hour-a-day job,” said her husband, Mike Harryman.

It’s the only way she knows. Rhode began shooting when she was 6 and was entering competitions at 10. Her father, Richard, serves as her coach and says she has always been a natural. Once, when Rhode was about 12, she accompanied her father on a hunting safari near the Zimbabwe and Tanzania border.

The guides were hesitant to allow Rhode to shoot but said if she could hit a paper plate from 100 yards out, they’d allow her to hunt. Her father saw no challenge there, so he told the guides to put a small mark on the plate.

Rhode emptied her clip and the guides discovered five shots that all disappeared in a hole the size of a thumbnail.

“They said, ‘You can shoot anything you want,’ ” her father recalled.

Two decades later, Rhode is now the owner of three Olympic gold medals, a silver and a bronze. She competes in the trap-shooting competition Saturday. Regardless of what she does there, she figures to have plenty more opportunities to add to her medal collection. Rhode is 33, and shooting is a sport that doesn’t penalize age and experience.

The oldest recorded Olympian is Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he competed in the 1920 Olympics. He was 64 when he won gold at the 1912 Games.

“There's definitely a few more Olympics in me,” Rhode said.

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