Natalie Rooney overcame a devastating family loss to become New Zealand's first medallist at Rio.

The trap shooter from Timaru claimed the silver medal after a shoot-off with Australian Catherine Skinner, securing NZ's best result for an Olympic shooter.

She did it with her father Gary in the stands, but without one of her biggest supporters.

Her mother Adrienne died in 2013 after a long battle with breast cancer.


Rooney's uncle Peter Grant said her mother would have been "pretty proud" of her.

He said the family has always been right behind her shooting career. "They always have been, the whole family are right into shooting."

Natalie's brother Sam said he was "absolutely proud" of his younger sister, although he admitted he didn't expect her to do as well as she did.

"I was backing her to be in the top six. But I knew how much she wanted to be on the podium, so in a way I was backing her to get a medal."

He said a keen interest in the sport was a Rooney family trait.

"I've always been into shooting, and it's just the competition, and the challenge, and the rest of the kids followed me from there."

Participating in the same sport also brings with it a fierce sibling rivalry.

"There always is [a rivalry]," Sam said.

"We're always having each other on. She's always been competitive, with her other sports as well, she's always had that in her."

Natalie was left disappointed after missing the last Olympics when she was selected to represent New Zealand, but was then booted from the team after an appeal.

She had been nominated by the New Zealand Shooting Federation for the team's sole shooting spot in London. However, rifle shooter Ryan Taylor appealed to the Sports Tribunal, and a ruling in his favour meant Rooney missed out.

Her uncle Peter said the omission from the team in 2012 drove her to success in Rio.

"After missing out on the last Olympic Games she probably had a point to prove. It's great for the whole family really."

Timaru mayor Damon Odey said Rooney's effort was an example of South Canterbury's strong sporting pedigree. "It's absolutely outstanding," Odey said.

"For the first medal at the Olympics to be won by our own district is a pretty good result. It's the world stage, she's a local girl, it's unbelievable."

In the Herald's countdown of New Zealand's top Olympic towns, Timaru came in third, with Rooney's latest achievement putting her alongside the other sporting successes from the region.

"We just keep cranking them out down here, and I was at our sports awards a couple of weeks ago and it looks like there's a few more to come as well," Odey said.