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U.S archer is 5-time Olympian — and ‘Hunger Games’ trainer

    U.S. Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig inspects and removes her arrows as she trains at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 21, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

LONDON >> When Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who played feisty heroine Katniss Everdeen in the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games,” drew back her bowstring and launched arrows at her prey, she had been trained by one of the best.

Her coach was U.S. archer Khatuna Lorig, a five-time Olympian who advanced to the round of eight on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon at Lord’s Cricket Ground. She nailed the 4.8-inch bulls-eye from 70 meters (86.4 yards) away on her final shot to beat Louise Laurson of Denmark. She is the only American archer left standing of the six who entered.

Lorig, 38, spent 15 days training the actress and was pleased the archery scenes in the movie looked authentic.

“We had an awesome time together,’’ Lorig said. “We teased each other a lot. I kept saying, ‘You’re a movie star,’ and she kept saying, ‘You’re a five-time Olympian.’ It was awesome. She was a very good student.’’

The box office smash is one of three recent movies that feature archery, along with Brave, an animated film about a young Scottish girl with great bow skills, and The Avengers, which included Clint Barton, the superhero sharpshooter “Hawkeye” from Marvel Comic books.

Lorig and her teammates say when Hollywood hits the bulls-eye, archery is the beneficiary. All of a sudden, it’s cool to be a toxophilite (a student or lover of archery). Kids are asking for lessons, the USA Archery website is seeing a significant spike in hits, and more and more people are learning the difference between a quiver (the sack that holds the arrows) and the fletching (the feathers on the end of arrow).

“Absolutely there has been more attention to our sport since The Hunger Games came out,’’ Lorig said. “We have a great sport, a unique sport, and it deserves this recognition. Hollywood is bringing archery out to the open more, and a lot of kids are loving it. I think it will be great if more kids start the sport, keep them off the street.’’

Brady Ellison, the top-ranked American men’s archer, agreed.

“The movies have really raised the profile of archery and the media does a great job of keeping people interested.”

USA Archery said membership is up 20 percent from last year, and the organization sent a letter to The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins thanking her for making archery cool with the younger generation.

One of the sport’s rising stars in the United States is Lorig’s 19-year-old son, Levan, who is a 2016 Olympic hopeful. Lorig will be 42 by then, but she dreams of being on a team with her son. Khatuna lives in West Hollywood, Calif., and her story reads like a movie script. She was born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a republic from the former Soviet Union. She competed for the USSR at the 1990 and 1992 world championships, and then won bronze with the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

She competed for Georgia at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and moved to New Jersey to follow a boyfriend. She became a U.S. citizen in time to compete as an American at the 2008 Beijing Games, where she finished fifth and was elected to carry the flag in the Closing Ceremonies.

And here she is again, four years later, outlasting her teammates. It isn’t easy what these archers do. Consider that the bows they use have a draw weight of between 38 and 50 pounds. The target is 48 inches in diameter and from 70 meters away looks like the head of a thumbtack at arm’s length.

It takes incredible concentration. The archers on Wednesday had to block out a spirited crowd of 28,000. American fans chanted, “USA! USA!’’ between rounds while Korean fans serenaded their athletes with “Dae-ha-min-gook! (Go Korea!)’’. There was also pop music blaring from the speakers, songs like “All the Single Ladies’’ and “Jump’’.

The competitors come out in pairs and shoot three rounds of three arrows head to head. They have a time limit of 20 seconds per arrow. Matches are best of five sets, similar to tennis.

On Wednesday, Lorig and her Danish competition ended tied after three rounds and went into a tiebreaker. Lorig needed a “10’’ to advance. The stadium got silent. She pulled back her bowstring, and sure enough, bulls-eye! 10 points. On to the Round of 8.

Asked if she got nervous, Lorig smiled.

“Yeah, there are nerves, but if I miss, I’m not going to die,’’ she said. “This is my fifth Olympics. You just shoot your best shot, try to make it as best you can, and hope for the best. Maybe the wind blows, maybe something happens, you can only control what you can control.’’

Katniss would be proud.

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