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ATHENS 2004

She Sets Her Sights, Hits Gold Again

Rhode of El Monte, who for a while had no place to train, wins double trap event for the second time.

August 19, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — A month or so from now, there will be a newcomer practicing at Jim Mitchell's Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall. He'll notice a short woman knocking down one target after another and snort some normal macho reaction, such as: Who does she think she is?

Were he to ask aloud, she could answer: "I'm Kim Rhode, two-time Olympic champion."

For the second time in the three Olympics that the women's double trap has been held, Rhode (pronounced Road-ee) has won the gold. The 25-year-old from El Monte won in Atlanta the first time they held the event in 1996, and, after settling for a bronze in Sydney, in Athens on Wednesday won gold again. Because double trap won't be held in 2008 in Beijing and probably not in the future, Rhode can safely retire the trophy that reads: Olympic Queen, Double Trap Shooting.

In Wednesday's 40-target double trap final, an event in which two targets are released on every pull, Rhode and Lee Bo Na of South Korea began having each hit 110 targets out of the possible 120 in qualifying. In the final, Rhode didn't miss until her 19th target, and then missed only three more times. Lee missed her ninth target and three of eight targets from her 22nd to 30th target. All Rhode had to do to win the gold was hit one of her last two targets, which she did.

Because she was the last shooter in the finals, she turned quickly to see the scoreboard after her last shot. It showed 146 hits to 145 for Lee, and the celebration began.

As quickly as she could, she got to the front of the bleachers and hugged her parents, Richard and Sharon, and was soon swarmed by family, friends and well-wishers.

She said she truly didn't know the outcome until she turned to the scoreboard.

"I don't keep track. I don't let myself," she said. "And when I finished, there was a pause where there was no cheering, so I really didn't know. Then, everything started about the same time I saw the scores."

Rhode said instead of keeping track of her hits and others' misses, she keeps her focus by humming songs to herself and/or listening to her heartbeat. "The song is usually the last one I heard, or something real familiar," she said.

Wednesday's gold-medal song?

" 'Here Comes Santa Claus,' " she said.

Rhode said this gold was a little tougher than the one in Atlanta because, for a while, she had no place to train. Her training area near Whittier Narrows in El Monte no longer had the facilities for her and she had to face the prospect of stopping her Olympic pursuit. But along came the newly crowned saint of U.S. shooting, Jim Mitchell, who met her at his club and decided to help out.

"I asked if I could raise some funds and we could build something," Rhode said, "but he said no, he wanted to do it, and at his cost."

So, $30,000 later, with new target computers and proper shooting bunkers, Rhode had both a 45-minute, one-way daily commute and an ideal place for her to put in her normal four to six hours of training. Which she does, right with the general public at Oak Tree.

"I asked Jim Mitchell why he would do this," Richard Rhode said, "and he said, 'It would be an honor to help out U.S. shooting.' "

Richard Rhode said his daughter was a natural right from the start.

"When she was little, we went shotgun hunting like some people go bowling," he said. "Then, people at the gun club said I ought to enter her in club contests. Then they were saying state contests, and then nationals."

He took her to Africa for a safari at age 10.

The pro guide told Rhode that his daughter couldn't shoot, that girls, especially that young, wouldn't be able to handle it.

"So I took a plate and carried it out about 100 yards," Rhode said, "and I put a little black dot right in the middle, and I told him to watch. She fired five times, and he went and got the plate.

"At first, he thought she hadn't hit anything. Then he looked closer and she had put the bullet through virtually the same hole, the size of a dime, all five times.

"He said, 'OK, she can shoot.' "

After Sydney, she was invited to hunt on invited-only Aborigine grounds, where, her father said, she successfully hunted buffalo and wild boar.

Her other hobby is restoring old cars, or in some cases, starting one from scratch. Her favorite is a 1965 Shelby Cobra that she built.

"I saw her turn every nut and bolt," Richard Rhode said.

Another fun thing she does is go to the eye doctor. Her vision is 20-10. She has no trouble reading the bottom line of the eye chart.

"I like to tease the doctor sometimes," she said. "I read the line below the bottom line, the one where it says, 'Copyright, 2002....' "

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