It may have only been a test event and one in which she was limited by how her partner shot, but few really doubted Kimberly Rhode was favourite to win the skeet mixed team event on the final day of the shooting World Cup in New Delhi. "It puts a lot of pressure to be shooting alongside her," says Angad Bajwa, who won a bronze at the same event. "You really want to believe you can shoot as well as her but at the same time you know how good she actually is. In this sport she is a legend."
The event went to script with Rhode, who had won the individual event a couple of days ago, winning the gold medal alongside Hayden Stewart. This would be the first World Cup podium finish for Stewart. Rhode, 37, on the other hand, can't recall how many times she has done the same. (It's 26, occupying the top step on half of those occasions).
Olympic medals are easier to remember though. Rhode has won a medal a record six consecutive times at the Olympics -- winning her first as a 16-year-old in Atlanta. At a time when shooters worry and complain about the removal of the double trap from the Olympic programme, Rhode could perhaps serve as inspiration. Her medals have come across disciplines -- she has two golds and a bronze in the double trap and, once the women's event was dropped after 2004, won a gold and two bronzes in skeet. She has competed in the trap event too.
Rhodes' status as one of her country's most accomplished, if less visible, athletes has an added dimension - the very controversial and contentious gun debate in the US. Rhode, a committed advocate of the right to carry arms, remembers the first question she was asked by reporters after she won a silver medal in the skeet event at the 2008 Olympics. It wasn't about her journey or the fact that she had just won a medal in what was then her fourth straight Olympics. "I was asked to comment on gun violence in America," says Rhode. It would be a familiar pattern of questioning when Rhode won skeet gold in London (which she did while pregnant) and then her sixth straight Olympic medal (a bronze at Rio).
But while most sportspersons might prefer to avoid a potentially thorny debate, Rhode joins in with a smile. "It's good to have conversation," she says. "People are passionate on either side and that's a good thing." Yet she makes her point with a smile and plenty of grace. She doesn't even keep her old medals but buffs out the markings so they can be awarded to younger shooters in order to encourage them. At the Karni Singh shooting range in Delhi, where the World Cup was held, she posed for pictures with anyone who asked and then handed over her bouquet of flowers to a little boy who was simply hoping for a selfie.
At the same time Rhode is firm in her convictions and makes no excuses for them. She is a member of President Donald Trump's Second Amendment Coalition, which supports the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the US constitution in that amendment. "I'm a staunch supporter of President Trump," she says. "For us he's a strong supporter of the Second Amendment."
Rhode believes guns are an integral part of Americana, and indeed her own family history is deeply intertwined with both. Growing up, she says, she would hear campfire stories about her great-great-grandfather George Ludwig Rhode, who fought in the Indian wars in the late 19th century. "He was one of the 25 men handpicked by General Sibley to rescue General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn ," she says. "The men ran into Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Every time I heard the stories, the odds got bigger and bigger. But George Rhode only managed to escape after four days and eventually General Custer was killed."
Her own father and grandfather encouraged a love for hunting and the outdoors, and Rhode says she always grew up alongside guns. She hopes to pass on that family tradition to her son Carter, who is three. While Carter is already trilingual -- speaking English, Mandarin and Spanish -- his mother is as excited by the fact that is showing signs he will be a good shooter. "He has great hand-eye coordination," she says. "I think he is better than me in some things. But ultimately it will be his choice."
Rhode believes she has a role in changing preconceived notions of others about the sport and shooters though. "People forget that outside the range we are regular people," she says. "I wash dishes, do laundry and run errands like everyone else." Of course, not everyone has to balance domesticity with the reputation of being one of the finest in their chosen field, as Rhode does. "My family is my main priority but I have to devote a lot of time to practice. I do it because I love shooting. I make sure I shoot 500 to 1,000 rounds a day, seven days a week. If I find I'm having trouble in a station, I'll shoot five times as much so that it won't bother me again."
Indeed, if her recent showing in Delhi is any proof, Rhode doesn't seem to be bothered by much right now. She has her sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and believes she can go on longer still. And while she will hope to keep her medal run going, she hopes she can change a few minds too. "I hope to educate people about our sport," Rhode says. "It teaches responsibility, focus and how to never give up. It teaches you lessons you can use in everyday life, whether it is business or school. I think I've broken down a lot of barriers and I'll keep trying to do so."