ELISE HU, HOST:
Olympic skeet shooter Kim Rhode has a shot at history this year. With a medal in Rio, she could become the first U.S. Olympic athlete to medal in six consecutive Summer Games. But you won't see her on a Wheaties box. That's because shooting sports don't garner the same type or amount of attention as others. NPR's Nathan Rott reports that Rhode is aiming to change that.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Even without her 12-gauge over-under shotgun resting on her right shoulder, Kim Rhode looks the part of a professional shooter - that is, if you ignore her feet.
KIM RHODE: I do train in flip-flops. I'm trying to get some sun on me.
ROTT: The Southern California sun is cooking out here at the Redlands Shooting Range (ph), but Rhode still has to train. She's planning to shoot about 400 rounds today.
K RHODE: Normally, I'd be up around 800 to 1,000.
ROTT: Eight hundred to 1,000 rounds in a day?
K RHODE: Yeah.
RICHARD RHODE: Every day, seven days a week?
ROTT: That voice you hear is Kim's coach, the same coach she's had her whole life, her dad, Richard Rhode.
R RHODE: OK, let's shoot some.
ROTT: We'll explain the mechanics of the sport as we go. Kim Rhode is an Olympic skeet shooter. She shoots clay pigeons or birds from eight fixed positions on a field like the one we're on now. Think of it like the game "Duck Hunt," only you're not on your couch, the gun is real and the birds aren't pixels, they're saucer-sized disks flashing across the sky.
R RHODE: It's moving at probably 54 to 65 miles an hour.
ROTT: And for those of you who shoot skeet and know the sport, that's about twice as fast as you typically find at a shooting range. There are other differences with the Olympic game, too. Shooters have to start with a gun at their hip. The birds are thinner, and some of them are packed with powder.
K RHODE: So that when we shoot them, they puff and create a big cloud for the cameras.
ROTT: Rhode trains with all of that.
K RHODE: OK, singles or doubles?
R RHODE: Do doubles.
K RHODE: Doubles.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
K RHODE: So you can see a regular puff and then a non-puff target.
ROTT: Yeah, we could see it because she blasted both of them. It's a recurring theme through the day.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
R RHODE: Good shot.
ROTT: Rhode makes shooting look easy. For professionals at her level, she says, shooting is like walking.
K RHODE: You know, when you walk down the street, you don't think right, left, right, left. You just naturally do it. It's the same thing for us. We don't really think hold point, lead, stance. It's very natural for us.
ROTT: Rhode has been shooting since she could hold a gun. She's an avid hunter, an outdoorswoman. And as she's grown older, becoming an icon in the world of sports shooting, she's become more political, not entirely by choice. She says athletes in shooting sports have to be.
K RHODE: At the London Games, the first question I got asked, you know, when I just won a gold medal in the Olympics wasn't, tell us what it's like to represent your country, or what is it like standing on the podium, or what does this medal mean to you? It was, can you comment on Aurora?
ROTT: The mass shooting in a movie theater that killed 12 people.
K RHODE: No other sport in the Olympics gets that.
ROTT: Rhode says it's the same in the lead-up to these Olympics. She gets asked about the mass shootings in Orlando, in nearby San Bernardino. And she sees a polarized political fight over guns that she feels is hurting not only her sport's image but its long-term viability.
K RHODE: We have a lot of bills and a lot of legislation that is making it very difficult for people to go out and enjoy the sport that, you know, I personally love.
ROTT: She points to laws that recently passed in California and how no lawmakers reached out to her or, to her knowledge, any other professional shooters for their input. Perhaps a bigger challenge though, Rhode says, is addressing the stigma that exists around guns.
K RHODE: Everything we hear on the media and the news, there's nothing positive.
ROTT: It's negative stories. But Rhode says there are positive stories to be told, too. And she hopes that by competing in Rio, by potentially accomplishing something no other U.S. Olympian has ever done, she can become one of those positive stories. Nathan Rott, NPR News.
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