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Hunger Games builds appetite for archery
The scene plays out in a matter of seconds, but in those scant moments of screen time, the sport of archery has received enough attention to last a lifetime.
Jennifer Lawrence, the 21-year-old actress who rose to stardom with her Oscar-nominated performance in the 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” is taking a turn as Katniss Everdeen, the lead character in “The Hunger Games,” a movie based on the best-selling 2008 young adult novel by Suzanne Collins.
In this particular clip, Katniss, having volunteered to participate in the Hunger Games, a post-apocalyptic reality show that pits young people against each other in a fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses, is auditioning for the Gamemakers. But when the execs seem more interested in their dinner than in the bull’s-eye Katniss just ripped off, she pulls another arrow from the rack, wheels angrily and fires it straight through an apple in the mouth of a pig that’s also the main course.
It is a moment made of special-effects magic, to be certain, but it’s one given a dash of realism through the efforts of four-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig.
Lorig, who competed in her first Olympics nearly 20 years ago, and her son were responsible for training Lawrence for the part, putting her through 15 one-hour sessions. And when you consider that initial fan response to the casting of Lawrence was less than positive, Lorig’s role in helping transform the ingénue into a believable badass was nothing short of (dare we say it?) Olympian.
“Surprisingly, she did pretty good,” Lorig said. “She was very easy to work with physically, with the long arms, and she’s a tall person. I think she was naturally talented. Her release from the string when she was shooting was very nice.
“It was very easy to coach her. . . . When she left, she was ready for the movie. She looked like a professional and she was shooting like a professional.”
Lorig would know, having spent the past two decades as a professional archer. In her Olympic debut at Barcelona, she earned bronze in the team competition as a member of the Unified Team. After the fall of the Soviet Union, she competed for Georgia in both 1996 and 2000, even though she had moved to the United States in 1996 with her then-boyfriend.
A protracted bid for US citizenship cost her the opportunity to compete in the 2004 Games, but after officially becoming an American in May 2005, Lorig not only represented her third country in 2008, but her fifth-place finish was the best individual showing by an American in Beijing. As her reward, Lorig was chosen to carry the US flag in the Closing Ceremonies.
None of which, of course, has adequately prepared her for the level of attention she has received in the wake of her Hollywood debut.
While Lorig isn’t likely to be walking the red carpet anytime soon, her participation in the worldwide phenomenon (through April 14, “The Hunger Games” had brought in $337.1 million in domestic revenue while becoming the first movie since all-time box office champ “Avatar” to top the charts four weekends in a row), has made her — at least in her largely obscure field — a minor celebrity.
“There’s been a massive increase in media interest, both in Khatuna Lorig and in USA Archery in general, since the opening of "The Hunger Games',” said Teresa Iaconi, a spokesperson for USA Archery.
According to Iaconi, Lorig has been the subject of features in publications as diverse as Glamour magazine and The Wall Street Journal — neither of which is particularly noted for its archery coverage.
“It’s very strange,” Lorig admitted with a laugh. “But it’s a good strange.”
Lorig will gladly deal with the additional attention if it means the sport to which she’s devoted herself the past 26 years gets its turn in the spotlight.
“My hope is a lot of young kids will be interested to try the sport,” Lorig said.
“I think young women and men across the country have seen exactly how cool archery is,” Iaconi said. “And we’re hearing that the people who are trying the sport for the first time are loving it and wanting to continue, which is great news for the sport.”
Lorig’s focus now turns to London, as she attempts to qualify for her fifth Olympics. This time, however, she will be trying to do so as inarguably the most well-known member of the American squad.
Not that she’s feeling the pressure.
“I’m old enough to handle that pressure,” Lorig said. “I’m experienced enough to not be afraid. And I’m very happy for archery to get more attention and for more people to fall in love with archery after this movie.”
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