Dead Ringers

When it comes to Olympic shooting sports, TV is in blackout mode.

By Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute

NRO Weekend, September 23-24, 2000, National Review Online. More by Kopel on media bias in coverage of gun control.

Television these days may seem like all Olympics, all the time. Besides the primary coverage on NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC, you can catch anything you missed by watching your local news, or one of the cable news channels. With some rather notable exceptions.

Want to find out the story about the American teenager who thought she was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but who came back to win the first gold medal at the Sydney games? Or perhaps you'd like to see the all-American teenager who won America's first gold medal in Atlanta, and who, at age 21, earned a bronze on Tuesday in Sydney.

Well forget about it, unless you get your news from the Internet. You see, these wonderful stories of American perseverance and triumph involved the shooting sports.

In the Olympic tradition, the first medal is always awarded in a shooting sport. This year, the first gold medalist was Nancy Johnson, of Downers Grove, Illinois, in the ten-meter air rifle. As a seventeen-year-old, Johnson had been told that she might have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, when her legs and arms mysteriously began to atrophy.

But she fought back with physical therapy, and has been symptom-free for two years. Now 26, she married fellow Olympic shooter Ken Johnson two years in 1998.

At the 1996 Atlanta games, the first gold medal was also awarded to an American: just a week after her 17th birthday, Kim Rhode of California won the gold in double trap. Trap involves shooting a shotgun at flying 4-inch clay disks. In double trap, two disks are flung in the air, and the athlete has two shots to try to get both of them.

In an interview in Women & Guns magazine, Kim explained how her father taught her to focus, while she was practicing her trap shooting:

When I'd call for a bird, he'd tickle my neck or the back of my leg with a blade of grass, or he'd toss a chunk of broken claybird onto the field in front of me, just as the target was thrown. He intentionally put distractions in my path — so I'd learn to ignore everything else, and focus on the target.

She remembers sitting on her father's lap when she was three years old, learning how to shoot her first gun. She started with a little .22 rifle. In club competitions, she had to shoot prone, because she was too tiny to stand up.

When she was ten, she went big game hunting with her father in Africa. The guide wondered if she was old enough to know how to really shoot. So her father walked out 300 paces, and put a paper plate in the ground. He shot a hole right though the middle. Kim promptly shot three bullets through that hole.

Kim Rhode started shotgunning at age ten, and soon after won the California State Skeet championship. A few years later, she helped set a new international team record in skeet.

When not studying or shooting, Kim Rhode spends much of her time giving motivational speeches to groups of young people. Her message is this: "Dreams really do come true, they do-so set your goal high, and stay focused!"

The tradition of American success in Olympic shooting goes all the way back to the first modern Olympics, in 1896 in Greece.

Two American brothers showed up: John and Sumner Paine. They hadn't been told what the course of fire or the distances would be, or even what kinds of rifles or pistols would be allowed. So the Paine brothers brought along a trunk full of guns, and thousands of rounds of different types of ammunition.

Despite this handicap, John and Sumner Paine each won one of the first two shooting events.

After the King of Greece presented the Paine brothers with the medals and olive branches, the two brothers withdrew from the rest of the Games. The brothers explained that they wanted to give other athletes a chance to win.

Imagine what a better world it would be if American television worked half as hard to laud models of sportsmanship like Nancy Johnson, Kim Rhode, and the Paine brothers, as it does to publicize and glamorize criminals who misuse guns.

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