Five-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode is taking aim at a sixth medal in skeet and double trap, shooting events in which competitors shoot clay targets launched through air by a mechanical thrower.
Rhode already holds the record for consecutive individual sport Olympic medals won by an American, with five. The record for most shooting medals overall is held by China's Yifu Wang, who holds six medals for men's pistol events.
On a recent morning, she was practicing at an open-air shooting range near Los Angeles, where the air was punctuated by the cracking sound of shotguns.
Trap and skeet require fast reactions and a keen eye, and Rhode rarely misses. At the 2012 London Games, she set an Olympic record and tied the world record in skeet with a score of 99.
The 36-year-old Rhode first competed in the Olympics at age 16 in 1996 in Atlanta, and has brought home Olympic medals from every Summer Games since then, including three golds. In her first three Olympics, she competed in two events: skeet shooting and double trap. Following the 2004 Athens Games, women’s double trap was eliminated from Olympic competition.
Shooting has been an Olympic sport at most Summer Games since the modern Olympics were revived in 1896, and Rhode loves to be among the world's top competitors.
“No matter what the event, we all have that common thread or that common story of overcoming or never giving up that really speaks, I think, to the creed of the Olympics,” she said.
Among her inspirations: the outdoorsman and adventurer, early 20th century U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who shamed male frontiersmen with her handling of a shotgun.
“Shooting was something that was kind of like the wild, wild West,” said Rhode, “something that is kind of in the fiber of our country. So Annie Oakley is definitely one [model].” She says Oakley “went out there and gave the boys a run for their money.”
Shooting is a family activity for Rhode. She practices with her father, Richard, who launches the targets for her.
Her grandfather was a rancher and hunter in Montana who brought his outdoor heritage to California.
“He taught my dad, and my mom and dad taught me,” said Rhode. “So it's something that has been generationally been passed down through my family.”
She has her eye on the target as she gets ready for the Rio Games. “It's really been an incredible journey,” she said, “one that I feel very blessed and honored to have had.”
The journey is far from finished. She is competing this week in Olympic qualifying events and the final team selection will be made by Friday.