How Kimberly Rhode’s unique training led to Olympic record-breaking

LONDON — One hundred targets flew out of the traps at Royal Artillery Barracks on Sunday, during the preliminary and final rounds of the Olympic women's skeet shooting competition.

U.S. shooting star Kimberly Rhode sniped 99 of them to set an Olympic record and win the gold, becoming the first American athlete to win an individual medal in five straight Olympics.

But perfection eluded her, as it has every shooter that's attempted to turn all 100 targets into dust.

"The one that got away," she said through a smile, the gold medal around her neck.

"I wish I could say that the sun was in my eyes, the rain hit my glass. But it comes down to sometimes, you just miss," she said. "I knew that 100 would have been really cool. But I guess it leaves something for 2016."

Hitting 100 is difficult enough to conceive; but that Rhode nearly did it in London is practically inconceivable. Rain poured down during the preliminaries. Wind played around with the targets. The sky went from dark and overcast to bright sunshine in a matter of minutes.

The rain may have bothered her opponents, leading to a blowout victory for the gold, but Rhode said there's a reason she thrived in it.

"I welcomed it because I'm comfortable in it," she said. "I tried to put myself in those conditions, those elements."

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Even if that meant traveling around the U.S. looking for rain.

Rhode said she wanted to mimic the conditions in London the best she could prior to competing in the Games.

"I went to places where it rained. To specific places, with specific backgrounds, to face conditions that we might face here," she said.

That meant training at Redlands Shooting Park in Redlands, Calif., where the clouds roll over the range, changing the lighting conditions frequently, like in London.

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That meant training at Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall, Calif., which has a large green hill that resembles the green backdrop of the Royal Artillery Barracks.

That meant taking two or three trips to Oregon, where she specifically sought out rainy days on which to train. She would be alone on the range, firing in a downpour, all the other shooters having left for drier environs.

"They think I'm crazy," she said.

The method to her madness resulted in gold and two Olympic records: The highest total score in the women's skeet at 99, and an Olympic record in the preliminary round, hitting 74 of 75 targets.

But her chase for perfection continues.

"I haven't scored 100 in this game. In practice, I do it quite a bit. It was definitely in the cards today," she said.

Rhode said her focus wasn't on setting records.

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"I just treated it like another world cup, another competition. I didn't try to focus on the record I was going for," she said. "Thank goodness all the stars aligned and it all came together for the United States."

That mindset comes from her parents, who taught her as a young athlete that it's more about the journey than the destination, as she puts it.

Her father, Richard, said his daughter could let the one that got away, well, get away, because of her temperament and approach.

"We never shot to win. Never. She didn't come here to win. She came here to have a good time. It's just like we told her when she was a kid — it's just the cherry on top of the cake if you win. 'Hey, good job, let's go down to get an ice cream cone,'" he said.

"There's no pressure. You're competing against yourself. If you lose, your husband's going to love you just as much, your parents are going to love you just as much. So go out there and have a good time."

And in the process, make American Olympic history.

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