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El Monte's Olympians Get First-Class Send-Off

Sports: Excited residents wish success to skeet shooter Kim Rhode and archer Janet Dykman.

June 27, 1996|MAYRAV SAAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They're sharpshooting, quick-thinking, goal-achieving women. But on Wednesday, all they could do was blush.

In a send-off fit for a departing army, the city of El Monte honored and--at times--overwhelmed two of its residents who are headed for the Olympics, skeet shooter Kim Rhode and archer Janet Dykman.

Decorated representatives of the 11th Airborne Division marched and trumpeters sounded appropriately triumphant tunes while Rhode and Dykman sat side by side on a stage outside City Hall, looking like 4-year-olds on their birthdays: delighted, but embarrassed.

The women will have to excuse the city for its excitement: Not since the 1972 Olympics has El Monte sent off one of its own, let alone two. And in the presence of Rhode, 16, and Dykman, 41, many residents could hardly contain themselves.

"I am so proud of you guys!" exclaimed Bernadette Sabula, 51, one of at least 100 people to crowd around the athletes for an autographed photo or "Kim and Janet" T-shirt.

Dykman autographed a photo for Sabula, underlining her signature with a drawing of an arrow before a city official ushered the Olympians to their seats.

"This is so exciting," said Sabula, an avid shooter. "I really like the community togetherness."

Residents from all walks of life, from schoolchildren to City Council members, congregated for the balloon-festooned outdoor event, causing traffic along Valley Boulevard to slow to a crawl.

"What a wonderful day for El Monte," said Mayor Patricia Wallach, addressing the crowd. "We wanted to have a send-off as fantastic as they both are."

Rhode, the youngest shooter the United States has ever sent to the Summer Games, has had her heart set on two things since she was 10: a spot on the Olympics team and a red Corvette.

"She got both," said her first coach, Paul Niedermann. "Her license plate [stands for] '96 Olympian."

The soft-spoken Arroyo High School student said she began shooting when she was "too small to even hold the gun." Her father would mount a rifle on his shoulder while she'd sit on his lap and pull the trigger.

Barely 5-feet-4, Rhode still doesn't look big enough to handle weaponry, and when she walks onto the field at competitions with her MX12 Perazzi, she usually gets a chuckle out of other participants.

"You'll see people point and say, 'Oh, look at that little girl. How cute, she just hit one. Oh, she just hit another one. Oh, she just hit another one,' " said Sharon Rhode, Kim's mother.

While Rhode took the fast road to Atlanta, Dykman said she was well into adulthood before choosing her Olympic goal.

In fact, the archer did not even pick up a bow and arrow until she had to during physical education class at Arroyo High. Excelling quickly at the sport, Dykman started taking professional lessons at various archery ranges and competed for several years. But after graduating in 1972, she drifted away from the sport.

Then, in the summer of 1984, while playing hooky from work at a ceramics studio, Dykman went to see the Olympics archery competition in Los Angeles.

"I was watching them and looking at the new equipment, and I thought, 'I really think I'd like to do this again.' "

In 1992, Dykman was selected as an alternate to the Olympic team.

"They took three people and I was the fourth," she said. "I was devastated and I was thinking about quitting. But at [a competition after the tryouts], I rediscovered that the reason I do this is because it is fun."

It's that healthy attitude that makes the Olympians such good role models for the city, residents said.

"When I was their age, girls weren't allowed to shoot in competitions with the boys, even though they could outshoot most of them," Sabula said. "I think this is important for [other] young women to see."

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