Sunday, July 29, 2012

Riding Shotgun To Olympic Gold










Sunday morning in London brought a bright blue sky and the big day for my first sporting event ticket of the 2012 Olympics -- shooting.

My first visit to an Olympic shooting venue, I did not know what to expect. Let me say the experience blew my mind!

It was a rocky start, however, when I realized at 8 a.m. that the start time was 9 a.m. and the Underground ride would be more than one hour (BLAST!).

Though London offers no bullet train service to The Royal Artillery Barracks, on the far east side of the city (even further than the Olympic Park), the tube-to-venue bus ride was brief, and I snapped several sunny shots around and inside the beautiful ultra-modern venue.

My general admission ticket included skeet shooting access, with a grandstand revealing three skeet and trap fields of play and nearly-full seating. The preliminary segment wrapped up with Team USA's Kimberly Rhode -- the five-time Olympian featured in a massive USA Today article last weekend -- in the lead with a near-perfect score.

Lunchtime arrived and I searched for ... wait for it ... bangers and mash, but settled for fish & chips (my first taste of this popular staple of the London experience). For those visiting Olympic venues in London, you may also enjoy the side of mashed peas (delicious!).

About this time, storm clouds moved in and a cloudburst sent many folks for cover. The rain did a high calibre number on my shoes, but my umbrella saved the day, and the vacant, damp seating yielded surprising access to the front row.

Imagine my delight to learn that my seatmates from the USA were Richard and Sharon Rhode, the parents of Kimberly. Rick and Sharon detailed their excitement, anxiousness and elation about the day, and they also told stories from travels to Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing for Kimberly's previous medal-earning Olympic competitions. Enjoy the video! Also, be sure to look for the LA Times' interview with Rick and Kimberly (shook hands with Bill Dwyre, the columnist from Los Angeles).

So there I was, seating by the parents of the medal favorite to my left ... wait for it ... riding shotgun and the shotgun competition at the London Olympics. All around us sat fellow Team USA supporters (I estimate about 25 of us, including several folks from Georgia like me). To my left sat a half-dozen Slovakia fans humming their national anthem. I love the Olympics!

Bonus -- the rain stopped just in time for the big final round.

It did not take long for Kimberly Rhode, Wei Ning of China, Marina Belikova of Russia, Chiara Cainero of Italy, Christine Wenzel of Germany and Danka Bartekova of Slovakia to blow through the final round. And in the fourth station of the competition, Rhode's parents were a bit more tense (Sharon explained it was the most challenging stage of the competition), but Kimberly kept nailing every shot.

She shoots, she SCORES!

So proud we were to learn by station five Rhode won the gold with China taking the silver. Russia and Slovakia began a sudden-death-pressure shoot-off, with Belikova missing her last shot, giving our neighbors seated to the left a huge occasion to celebrate as we had for Rhode.

Bravo, Kimberly Rhode! Her smile beamed as some blogger in the audience cheered "We love you, Kimberly!" drawing laughter from the crowd.

With "The Star Spangled Banner" playing as Old Glory ascended the flag pole, Rhode wiped away tears as did China's silver medal winner Ning and Bartekova donning her bronze. What a moment! So proud.

Rhode's post-competition actions also impressed me deeply. After completing a wave of media interviews in the venue's mixed zone for reporters and athletes, Rhode heard from anxious U.S. fans asking for autographs and a photo with Rhode.

Rhode not only stayed to sign every autograph and pose for may photos, but for kids in the venue she placed her brand new London Olympic gold medal around their necks and invited the young fans to hold her medal ceremony flowers. So polite and inspiring. Again, bravo Kimberly Rhode! A true Olympic champion.

My fellow International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) friend Brian Carberry is quick to point out that Rhode is the second Olympian in two days to win an medal in five consecutive Olympics. Though she did not five-peat, Rhode now has three gold, one silver and one bronze in her trophy case. And she has another opportunity to medal in London next weekend, according to her parents.

Rhode not only won gold, but she also shot a near-perfect 99 out of 100, equaling her own world record.

So excited I am by her victory, it's time to rifle through my bag for the Kim Rhode "blinkie" pin her mother gave to me in the stands. Time to wear it with pride.

Photos and videos by Nicholas Wolaver

1 comment:

David Kopp said...

Rifle through your bag, eh?

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