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

Kim Rhode
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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.”

Jillion Potter done with cancer treatment, eyes U.S. rugby return, Olympics

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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