By Mary Milliken
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - American shooter Kim Rhode won the bronze medal in women's skeet shooting on Friday, an honor that put her in an elite record-holding group of just five other athletes who have won a medal in six different Olympic Games.
The Californian and three-time shooting gold medalist also became the first sportswoman in history to win medals in six consecutive Games.
"When I started the Olympics I was 16 in 1996, I am 37 now and a mom, and who would have thought? It's been an incredible journey," said Rhode after her sixth trip to an Olympic podium.
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And she may not stop at six. Regardless of her health challenges, Rhode vowed to be back for the 2020 Games in Tokyo and if her hometown of Los Angeles wins the bid to host in 2024, she said she would have to compete there too.
"I do love the pressure, I do love the competition, but I think that just standing up there on the podium, it's addicting," she said.
Despite all the cheer, she came perilously close to falling short of the sixth medal in tough conditions at the Olympic Shooting Centre in the hills outside Rio de Janeiro.
After a tense shoot-off for the bronze with China's Wei Meng, Rhode was overcome with emotion, as her husband and young son shouted from the stands.
"It doesn't matter if it's gold, silver or bronze, it's the journey," said Rhode. "My journey this time was very, very challenging. As you can see, I got emotional."
Italians Diana Bacosi and 2008 Olympic skeet champion Chiara Cainero won gold and silver, respectively.
ASSORTED HEALTH SETBACKS
Rhode has suffered from a string of health setbacks over her 27 years in competition, including shoulder problems, complications from pregnancy and most recently a bad hip. Three doctors told her to give up shooting as a teenager.
"I am slowly but surely getting my endurance back, but I am not at 100 percent," she said.
She reveled in the presence of her son, Carter, holding him during interviews with her sixth medal around her neck.
The American won gold medals in double trap in her first Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and in 2004 and in skeet in 2012, the most in women's shooting at the Games. She added bronze in women's double trap in 2000 and silver in women's skeet in 2008.
The Rio Games, the first in South America, also mean that Rhode has won a medal on five continents.
Rhode often fields questions about gun control and the powerful pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, with whom she started competing in rifle shooting at the age of 10.
"I am a life-time member of the NRA and my son is as well," she said, adding "it's because of them that I started."
(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Susanna Twidale, Meredith Mazzilli and Mark Lamport-Stokes)