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Shooter Rhode sets her aim high for London

By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As an Olympic shooter, Kim Rhode knows it pays to aim high and hit your targets.

Luckily for Rhode, she has done that and more. Still just 32, she has already appeared in four Olympics and won medals each time, including two gold.

If she reaches the podium at the London Olympics, she will become the first American to win medals in individual events at five successive Olympics.

"If I could do that, it would be great, but I'm not counting my chickens," Rhode told Reuters. "The medals are great but that's not what it's all about for me. What really matters to me is the journey and hopefully mine isn't finished yet."

Rhode's journey has been full of twists and turns and ups and downs since she was introduced to guns as a small child during camping vacations and hunting trips with her family.

A natural with a steady arm and a good eye, she was persuaded to take up competitive shooting and proved an instant success.

She won her first world championship, competing against adults, when she was 13, in double trap, where competitors use a shotgun to hit clay pigeons flung into the air from two different locations.

A few days after her 17th birthday, Rhode won her first Olympic medal, a gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Four years later she earned a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics and then won a second gold at Athens in 2004.

"I knew straight away, when I was young, that this is what I wanted to do," she explained. "I just loved the competition. I liked the moments when I'm competing and it's all on the line.

"I still do. I love it more and more."

STARTING OVER

Everything seemed to be falling perfectly into place for the Californian when suddenly, her sporting world was turned upside down.

Women's double trap, the event she had dominated for nearly a decade, was dumped from the Olympics, forcing her to take up skeet, where competitors have to shoot from eight different stations at targets that are thrown randomly.

"It really was like starting all over again. There are some obvious similarities but it's like a diver taking up butterfly swimming. The only thing the same is the water," she said.

"At the time, I was obviously devastated, but I had to make the best of it and now, looking back, it was a good thing because it opened up new doors."

Rhode won a silver medal in skeet at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, finishing second in a three-way shoot off after the top three finalists finished in a tie.

SPARE PARTS

Then, she suffered another setback. A few months later, on the eve of an early qualifying event for the London Games, the shotgun she had used in competition throughout her entire career was stolen from her pickup truck.

From spare parts, she hurriedly built another one that night that she used in competition the next day.

She won the competition with the makeshift gun then started using one that was donated to her by her local community.

Rhode eventually got her old gun back when police found the thief but she decided to stick with her new one.

"It's funny but I think the whole episode made me a better shooter," she said. "Not just because I had to switch to a new shotgun but also because of what people did to help me."

Rhode trains seven days a week, firing between 500 and 1,000 rounds a day, and her work continues to pay off.

She has already qualified for the skeet in London and can qualify in the single trap as well if she gets a high enough score at a Cup meet in Arizona this month.

"That would be neat, to have competed in all three events, but I've got still got plenty of time," she said.

"If I win a medal or not, I'm not going to stop, in fact I'd like go to another five Olympics.

"I know that the oldest Olympic medalist was a shooter aged 72. I don't know if I'll go that far but it'll be a great journey no matter what."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)