By Scott Malone
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – A formidable lineup of the world’s best shooters, including veteran Olympians from the United States and Australia, will be gunning for gold when their events at the Summer Games at Rio de Janeiro get underway on Saturday.
Among the veterans, American skeet shooter Kim Rhode, 37, will be looking to medal at her sixth consecutive Olympics, and could join a group that includes just five other people if she mounts the podium later this month.
“The pressure is definitely there,” said Rhode, who relies on training to ease nerves. “I shot 450 targets the day before I left for here.”
The United States has long dominated the sport, racking up 107 medals since its debut in 1920, almost twice as many as nearest rival Sweden. But a spot on the podium will be no sure thing for the Californian collector of first-edition children’s books, who is currently ranked sixth in the world, behind rivals including teammate Morgan Craft.
Rhode is practically an Olympic novice compared with Georgian pistol shooter Nino Salukvadze, 47, a three-time medalist who will be competing in her eighth Games, an Olympic record. This time she will be alongside her 18-year-old son Tsotne Machavariani, who is making his Olympic debut. The two will be the first mother-son pair to compete on the same Olympic team.
“When I am at the shooting range I am the coach and mentor,” said Salukvadze. “At the village I am the mother.”
Australia’s Warren Potent, 54, who snagged his country’s first Olympic shooting medal in the 50-meter prone rifle event in Beijing in 2008, will be competing in his fifth games and aiming to top rivals two decades his junior.
In men’s pistol events, South Korea’s Jin Jong-oh, 36, will be a shooter to watch after his performance in London in 2012, where he became the first man to win multiple gold medals in shooting since 1924. He’ll be contesting the same events, the 10 meters air pistol and 50 meters pistol, where he is ranked top in the world, in Rio.
China’s team will also likely be a formidable threat, after it led the shooting medals table in the last three Olympics with a total of 32 so far this century.
The International Olympic Committee on Friday cleared all 18 of Russia’s shooters to participate, after a quarter of its athletes including the entire athletics team were banned over a doping scandal.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Mary Milliken)