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Sunday, June 20, 2004 - Page updated at 05:24 P.M.
Ron C. Judd / Times staff columnist
Thanks to Home Depot's Olympic athlete jobs program, it's not all that hard these days to find a prospective Olympian to sell you a rhododendron.
But Lance Bade is probably the only reigning medalist around who'll plant the thing for you.
A landscaping business, in fact, is what pays the bills most of the time for Bade, 34, the Vancouver, Wash., native who recently qualified for his third Olympic Games in trap shooting.
Although Olympic team members packing loaded shotguns might be getting more and more popular in a terror-fueled environment, the shooting sports are hardly among the marquee Olympic events, rarely rating TV time or much other media attention.
That means sponsor dollars are scarce, and participants have to be even more creative in forging a lifestyle that allows them to live well and play well, all at the same time.
Bade has done pretty well for himself on both counts: In addition to his landscaping business, he gives shooting lessons and frequently guides hunting trips around Greeley, Colo., not far from his home base at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
His hunt for medals paid off at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where Bade bagged a bronze in men's trap. He slipped badly at the Sydney Games in 2000, finishing 16th in trap and sixth in double trap.
"I just struggled," he said. "It wasn't me. I wasn't satisfied. It's hard to walk away from a game you've been one of the top performers at."
He gave himself a new mission: Win a medal in Athens to cap off his career. And he's back to his usual, dead-on self, walking away with an Olympic qualifying competition this spring at Fort Benning, Ga.
He'll be joined on the U.S. shooting squad by two fellow Washingtonians: rifle shooters Morgan Hicks, 22, of Roy, and Sarah Blakeslee, 19, of Vancouver.
Bade, a plain-speaking man with steely, determined eyes, said he feels relaxed a major factor when you're shooting at moving clay targets and the slightest flinch can cost you a medal and ready for Athens. Experience is valuable in the shooting game, he said.
"You know how to deal with things better" as you get older, he added.
Trap shooting, in which shooters take aim at 125 targets in sets of 25, isn't immune to good, old-fashioned trash talking, Bade said. Part of the game is learning how to psych out the competition and how to avoid the right-back-at-you psych coming the other way.
That's the mental game. But shooting is physical, as well, and elite shooters spend their share of time in the gym honing those necessary muscles and reflexes.
Bade has trained with the U.S. judo team at the Olympic Training Center, and he recently dropped about 40 pounds as part of a new fitness kick.
To keep his edge, he shoots about 300 rounds a day, three or four days a week. But he said he's careful not to overtrain with his shotgun.
"There's really a fine balance between being in a groove and letting it flow, and trying too hard," he said.
When Bade has let it flow, he has achieved perfection: He's one of only four shooters in the world to post perfect, 125-straight scores in major competition.
He doesn't miss very often but when he does, especially on a hunting trip, he never hears the end of it from buddies.
"I get razzed a lot sometimes," he said.
Bade, a 1989 Prairie High School graduate, started shooting in 1987 at the Vancouver Trap Club. He moved to Colorado in 1991 and was married in 1998, "but I still consider Washington home," he said.
You might see him fishing off the mouth of the Columbia in August, or hanging out with family around Vancouver on major holidays.
His secret to success?
"I rose when it was time to rise," he said. "I've always been able to come through in the clutch."
The time to rise nears again, and Bade expects to be on the leader board.
"I'm going there to win a medal."
A valiant push
He crossed the line almost five minutes after the winner, but the biggest cheers on a wet day in Bellingham last Sunday were saved for Joe Umphenour.
Competing for the final spot on the U.S. Olympic triathlon team before enthusiastic crowds, Umphenour finished fourth among Americans and failed to make the squad.
That was no surprise: A torn calf muscle at an earlier qualifying race in Hawaii left Umphenour hobbled and largely out of the running for a team he likely would have made if he'd stayed healthy.
It was a heartbreaker for Umphenour, a Bellevue resident who, at 35, is at the tail end of the normal competitive age range for elite athletes in one of the most grueling pursuits in sport.
Realizing that, he "wanted to make a point" with his performance in Bellingham, he said. The point: He was down, but not out. On the bike portion of the course, a super-steep, 18 percent grade up Alabama Hill, Umphenour made charges that proved he was as fast as anyone going to the Games.
"I was out of the running for an Olympic spot," an emotional Umphenour said at the finish line. "But that spot was really mine. If it wouldn't have been for the torn calf."
Racing in Washington state was almost as fun as the Olympics, he said.
"This was awesome. This is a home crowd for me. I put a lot of guys behind me out there. It was a great way to put a big exclamation point on the whole (Olympic qualifying) procedure."
The final qualifying spot went to Victor Plata of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Ron C. Judd: 206-464-8280 or at email@example.com
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