Kim Rhode

Kim Rhode still No. 1 after difficult pregnancy, gun change on road to history in Rio

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Kim Rhode laid out her five Olympic medals — one each from 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 — and tweeted the day after the London Olympic Closing Ceremony.

“There’s always room for one more,” captioned the U.S. shooter, adding the #Rio2016 hashtag.

Rhode still has space in a medal safe at home in California, for if she ties the Olympic record by winning an individual event medal in a sixth Olympics next year. Italian luger Armin Zoeggeler set the mark at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

In Rio, Rhode can become the first Olympian to earn a medal on five continents. She’s already the only American to earn individual event medals in five straight Olympics. The gold from her first medal, from Atlanta 1996, is starting to rub off from two decades of sharing it with friends and fans.

“You can actually see the silver showing through,” she said. “The ribbon is starting to fray, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Other bountiful Olympic medal sports like swimming and track and field are perceived as more physically taxing, but shooters often deal with upper-body and arm injuries and are more impacted by deteriorating eyesight.

“We can’t do it forever,” said Rhode, who has yet to feel a need to get her eyes tested, “but we definitely have longer longevity.”

Rhode overcame obstacles to shoot nearly perfect at London 2012 — a world record-tying 99 out of 100 for skeet gold. Her gun, “Old Faithful,” was stolen but later returned between the 2008 and 2012 Olympics (however, she retired it before the London Games). She felt a lump in her right breast that turned out to be benign in 2011. Her toy poodle, Norman, ate her plane ticket to Heathrow Airport less than a week before the London Opening Ceremony.

Rhode could not have predicted the surprises in store as she attempted to make a sixth Olympic team in 2016. They actually started at her fifth Games in London, where she unknowingly competed while pregnant.

Rhode didn’t realize it until more than a month later. She and other women were helping a friend plan a wedding when the topic of having children came up. Her friends started going through the symptoms of pregnancy.

Check, check, check, Rhode thought to herself. She was surprised.

“Maybe this isn’t exhaustion from working so hard and traveling to all these different places,” Rhode said in a phone interview Friday. “Maybe there’s a little more to this.”

Rhode gave birth to her first child, son Carter, on May 13, 2013, two months before her 34th birthday, and 2 1/2 weeks overdue. Rhode called it “a difficult pregnancy,” needed her gall bladder removed six weeks later and said she’s since dealt with injuries “significant in my life.”

“[Doctors] say I’m competing at a 30 percent hindrance currently,” Rhode said.

Yet she’s still ranked No. 1 in the world in the skeet and isn’t ruling out trying to make the Olympic team in a second event, trap, as she did in London.

Rhode took her longest break from shooting after the pregnancy, several months. She returned to earn medals at four of her last six World Cup competitions but failed to advance to the skeet final at the 2014 World Championships, shooting while her husband was hospitalized with diverticulitis in California.

The 2014 World champion, countrywoman Brandy Drozd, was born two years before Rhode made her Olympic debut in Atlanta as a rising senior at El Monte (Calif.) Arroyo High School.

“I don’t mind being the old one on the team, but at the same time I remember when I was young,” Rhode said. “When I started I was the youngest, and there wasn’t anybody young on the team. Most of them were in their 40s. I think I kind of started that trend [of younger shooters].”

Rhode could clinch a spot on the 2016 Olympic team later this year via World Cup results, though another American could beat her to it and force Rhode to try to book her spot next year. Two U.S. women can make the Olympic team in the skeet.

Rhode is supported by her husband, Mike, who is partly a stay-at-home dad but also plays guitar and sings in a band, Fishing For Neptune, which describes its style as “Funky Rock Goodness.”

“He’s a saving grace for us,” Rhode said.

Mike helps with Carter’s busy schedule, which includes music and swimming lessons and Mandarin Chinese and Spanish classes. Rhode is planning Carter’s two-year birthday party, which will be a “viking slaying dragons” theme.

Carter is sometimes around the practice range, too.

“I’ll shoot,” Rhode said, “and he’ll be playing around catching lizards.”

Rhode saw another big change after Carter was born. She swapped shotguns, citing the benefit of new technology and less recoil in giving up her Perazzi for the Beretta DT11.

“I couldn’t be happier with my decision,” she said.

For all of Rhode’s accomplishments, she is lacking at least one in the Olympic arena. She’s never carried the U.S. flag at an Opening or Closing Ceremony, an honor usually bestowed on an athlete nominated by teammates in his or her sport and then voted over athletes in other sports.

“To my knowledge twice I’ve come in second in being able to carry that,” Rhode said, referencing missing out for the London 2012 Closing Ceremony to sprinter Bryshon Nellum, who made the Olympics after being shot in his legs in 2009. “It would be a huge honor, but at the same time it’s not really up to me.”

Rhode also wouldn’t mind enjoying another Olympic tradition once more — trading pins. She’s had her own licensed pin at previous Olympics, designed by her father.

Rhode is a collector. Medals. Pins. Between 4,000 and 5,000 children’s books. She fancies restoring classic cars, estimated she has 18 and this week discussed working further on her 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

Rhode and her husband recently built the Slat Sound Recording studio in their Monrovia home, hosting various musicians.

She has many more responsibilities than when she debuted at the Olympics in 1996 but not too much to contemplate completing her shooting career in Rio. One century ago, Swede Oscar Swahn collected six Olympic shooting medals, all in his 60s and 70s.

“There really is no reason to stop,” said Rhode, who got her start hunting rabbits and doves at 3 or 4 years old. “I’m very much looking forward to the future, the possibility of being able to take my son with me on some of my competitions and allowing him to see the world.

“There’s still lots to shoot for.”

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Marvel superheroes inspire Bradie Tennell, Starr Andrews

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Bradie Tennell and Starr Andrews have something in common beyond their obvious figure skating talents: both skaters look to Marvel superheroes for inspiration.

The 20-year-old Tennell, who opened her 2018-19 international season with a big win over two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at the Autumn International Classic in Oakville, Ontario, counts Iron Man and Spider-Man as her favorites.

Believe it or not, Iron Man – also known as Tony Stark – figures into Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After I land the triple salchow toward the end of my program, I go down on one knee and do what I call my Iron Man pose, because that’s what Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) does in the first Avengers movie,” she said.

Summoning superhuman strength worked. Tennell had a personal-best free skate in Oakville. But in other ways, she’s the opposite of her hero: Iron Man survives his adventures largely be wearing a special suit of armor, while Tennell is all about dropping her guard this season and being more expressive on the ice.

“I believe in myself a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Andrews, 17, is inspired by the noble and determined Black Panther, depicted in the 2018 film by Chadwick Boseman.

“There is always a challenge and you always have to fight to get what you want,” she said.

“I wanted something different this year, I definitely wanted no lyrics, and an African theme,” she added. “When I watched Black Panther, I said, ‘Yeah, I want something like (the music in) this’ and Derrick (Delmore) pulled up some music.”

Delmore, who coaches Andrews in Los Angeles, wracked his brain to find the right material. Ultimately, he choreographed her free to a medley he calls “African Tribal Xotica.”

“The music is from five different things,” he said. “She saw the movie, loved it, and sent me some music from that movie she cut herself that I didn’t love. She was inspired to do something in that genre. I finally thought of music I used a few years back for another skater, and I played it for her, and as soon as it came on she said, ‘Oh, this is what I want.’”

What Andrews wants now is a triple axel. She attempted the three-and-a-half revolution jump in her free skate in Oakville, but it was downgraded (judged short of rotation) by the technical panel. Still, she placed a respectable seventh in a tough international field.

“I’m excited for the day I get it,” Andrews said. “I just have to keep working on it. One day I will land it and will be super-confident and happy.  It’s not new to me, I’ve been working on it for a while. That little extra effort, and then I’ll land it.”

Only two other senior U.S. ladies – Tonya Harding, back in the early 1990s, and Mirai Nagasu at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February – have landed the jump in international competition, but Andrews believes it is becoming almost commonplace.  While Tennell and Andrews were competing in Oakville, Japanese teenager Rika Kihira landed two triple axels, including one in combination with a triple toe, at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

“There are so many more people doing it know. I feel like it’s not surprising for women to do it,” Andrews said. “They are doing it in junior and even in advanced novice, like Alysa Liu (at the Asian Open), which was amazing.”

Delmore supports his student’s ambition, with a few caveats.

“Right now, I want her to get used to doing the axel,” he said. “I want it to be a regular part of her competitive experience, so she knows how to keep going when it doesn’t go well, and hopefully when she gets it, she knows what it’s like to have that amazing moment and to keep going.”

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic despite shaky performance

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Yuzuru Hanyu won his third Autumn Classic International crown in Oakville, Ontario on Saturday, but it was a bumpy ride.

The two-time Olympic champion’s debut of his “Origin” free skate, inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s famous “Tribute to Njinsky” program, had many fine elements: opening quadruple loop and toe loop jumps, plus two triple axels in the program’s second half; a pair of superb closing spins with fittingly baroque positions; and promising step and choreography sequences that preserved Plushenko’s flair, while adding a touch more refinement and control.

But a face-forward fall on a quad salchow, followed by a popped quad toe, meant Hanyu’s 165.91 points put him second in the free skate to his 16-year-old training partner, Junhwan Cha of South Korea. His total score, including Friday’s short program, was 263.65 points, just under four points higher than Cha’s second-place total.

At this point in the season, many other skaters – not including Plushenko – would have shrugged  off the imperfections in the challenging program and been happy to put a few miles on the choreography. But the 23-year-old Hanyu’s perfectionism runs year-round.

“My first competition of the season is always this level, unfortunately,” he said, as translated from Japanese. “I wanted to skate my short and free without any regrets here, and I was not able to do that.”

Hanyu likely remembers this event last season, when a mistake-riddled free skate put him second to longtime rival Javier Fernandez of Spain. This time around, the Japanese superstar, who trains at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, was especially disappointed that his jump glitches meant he could not attempt a quad-triple axel sequence, a combination that might have been worth some 20 points.

“I was not strong enough to skate this program yet,” he said. “I feel fine, I am not injured. Another program, maybe (last season’s) ‘Seimei,’ I might have been able to do well, but not this program. I am just not ready.”

Just as he did after Friday’s short program, where a botched spin cost him several points, Hanyu vowed to work harder.

“This is where I am right now, and I need to practice more,” he said.

Hanyu has plenty of time: his first Grand Prix event is in Finland on November 2.

The skating world may best remember this event as the week Cha came into his own. The Korean teen, who landed a quad salchow in his short on Friday, hit a quad toe to start his free to “Romeo and Juliet” – just the second time he has landed the jump in competition. While his quad salchow was judge under rotated, he went on to land two triple-triple combinations and two triple axels, all done with style and maturity beyond his years. The program earned 169.22 points to win the day.

“Last season, I didn’t skate so well. I had some hip and back (injuries) and boot problems,” Cha, who also said he had recently had a growth spurt, said. “Now I feel much stronger, and I have been working hard.”

Asked if he had a skating idol – perhaps his training partner, Hanyu – Cha demurred.

“I don’t have just one idol,” he said. “I like many different skaters, for different reasons. I will like one skater for his jumps; another skater for his spins.”

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic

Canada’s Roman Sadovsky, fourth after the short program, stepped up to win the bronze medal with 233.86 points after landing two quads, a salchow and toe, in his free skate.

Jason Brown may be disappointed in his fourth-place finish here, but it cannot have come as a big surprise: the 2015 U.S. champion has said that since moving to Toronto this spring to train under Orser and Wilson, he has been re-learning his jump technique. He called the move “a four-year project.”

“I cannot speak more highly of Brian, Tracy, Lee (Barkell) and Karen (Preston), the whole team at Cricket Club,” Brown, 23, said. “They have been really been patient with me and worked with me methodically. … We’re starting from the ground up. Each day I’m learning something new, each day they are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump,  or the pacing of a program.”

The debut of Brown’s free to a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “Hazy Days of Winter” was bittersweet: his blades sung during spins, step sequences and transitions, but the jumps weren’t there. An opening quad salchow was doubled; a triple axel, popped into a single. He earned 144.33 points to place fifth in the free and fourth overall with 233.23.

Wilson, though, said they are just getting started.

“Let’s face it, he is a brilliant skater and he’s gotten close to the top of the world,” Wilson said of Brown, who was fourth in the world in 2015. “It’s a fine line trying to find room for improvement, and so that’s what we are trying to do. We are throwing a lot at him. We’re going to pull back a little.”

“What he brings, though, cannot be ignored,” she added. “My husband can be in the rink and know nothing about skating, and be mesmerized by what Jason does. He could teach clinics for every step sequence and position details. He is integral to what the sport needs.”

MORE: Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten