The Best

By Christopher Zoukis

The 2012 Summer Olympics are over.  Most of the Olympians have moved on to new challenges.  One of the most decorated Olympians is a woman most people have hardly heard of.  Her name is Kim Rhode, and she’s won five medals in Olympic shooting.  She shoots skeet. 

She’s a 21st century Annie Oakley.

In any other sport, she’d be endorsing products – like Winchester or Perazzi shotguns or alliant powder or Ray Ban shooting glasses – and making lots of money.  But not in shooting.  Only aficionados of the sport care what products she uses, and there aren’t very many of those.

In 1996, when she was only 17 years old, she won a gold medal in Atlanta in what’s called the double-trap competition.  Four years later, in Sydney, she took home a bronze medal.  Then in Athens, she won gold again.  At that point, the Olympics dropped the double-trap competition.  So Kim took up skeet shooting. 

The difference between trap shooting and skeet shooting goes like this:  in trap, the clay targets come out of ground level bunkers arranged in a semi-circle.  The targets are released at different times and at different angles.  Both must be hit, disappearing in a puff of black dust.  In skeet, the targets come out of facing ground level and upper level bunkers, heading in different directions.  As in trap, the goal is to hit both targets.  What makes it so hard is that not only are the targets traveling in antithetical directions, but they are moving at 65 miles per hour and are about the size of teacup saucers.

Problematic – to say the least.

In international competition, a shooter who misses four or five of the targets is pretty much history.  The whole idea is not to miss any. 

Kim got involved in shooting because her father and mother did it.  Kim tagged along and learned how to do it.  She got pretty good at it.  By the time she was ten years old, she’d been big game hunting in Africa.  By the age of 13, she was the world champion at skeet. 

What most people don’t realize about skeet shooting is that it’s expensive.  Kim’s custom gun cost $20,000.  And she shoots 600 to 1000 rounds per day, while practicing.  Each day’s practice costs $500, which runs about $15,000 per month.  Kim’s been practicing for the last twenty years, every day of the year.  Do the math and you come up with a mind-boggling figure of $3,650,000.  That’s for ammunition, targets, and the cost of travel. 

Even Michael Phelps would balk at that figure.  Yet somehow Kim Rhode does it.  That’s what the Olympics are all about – being the best, no matter what the costs.