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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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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