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August 06, 2008

An American at last: Archer competing for US now

BEIJING(AP) In 2005, Khatuna Lorig finally became an American citizen - and there was one opportunity she couldn't wait to pursue.

``Right away, I called the USOC,'' Lorig said.

A native of Georgia - the republic, not the state - Lorig has competed at three Olympics in archery. Now, she'll have a chance to represent the United States.

``It was a great experience before, competing for the Soviet Union and twice for Georgia, but this is special because the U.S. Olympic Committee cares so much for us,'' she said Wednesday. ``I'm hoping I can do something special and get a medal and make the United States very proud because I am very, very proud to be part of the U.S. team.''

The five-person U.S. archery team is a diverse group. It includes 52-year-old Butch Johnson and 19-year-old Brady Ellison. Johnson is competing in his fifth Olympics, Ellison his first.

Lorig's story might be the most fascinating. She was born in 1974 in Tbilisi, Georgia, and reached the Barcelona Olympics at age 18. There, she won a team bronze medal as a member of the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union. She competed for Georgia in 1996 and 2000.

Those 1996 Olympics were in Atlanta, and Lorig decided she wanted to move to the U.S. She gave few details about what drew her to the country, but her regard for it is obvious.

``The law actually is the law,'' she said. ``That's what I really respect. The law is the same for everybody, rich or poor.''

Lorig describes her upbringing as a positive one. Her parents are still in Georgia, and she says they respect her decision to leave.

``My mom and dad are happily married. They're still married. They're still happy. ... They're happy because I'm happy,'' she said. ``They know I'm very happy in the United States.''

Lorig's appreciation for her adopted country isn't lost on her teammates.

``She always wanted to live here and be part of this team,'' said Vic Wunderle, who won an individual silver medal and a team bronze in 2000. ``I think sometimes she appreciates her American citizenship more than some of us that were born here.''

That's understandable, considering Lorig waited about eight years for citizenship. She said she's not sure why the process took so long.

``You can ask immigration. I would like to know that, too,'' she said cheerfully. ``I guess a lot of people want to move into the United States and immigration is very busy.''

So far, Lorig's American Olympic experience has been as she expected. Instead of representing a small country with few medal hopes, she's part of a team of about 600 U.S. athletes - and everything is handled first class. The difference is obvious.

``I love my previous country because that's where I was born and raised,'' she said. ``Unfortunately, financially, they are struggling.''

Lorig's new team has been struggling lately too - in archery at least. The Americans didn't win a medal in the sport in 2004, and the U.S. women are without an individual medal since 1976.

Lorig is one of two U.S. women competing this year. Jennifer Nichols is ranked 10th in the world by FITA, the sport's international federation. Lorig is 35th.

Still, win or lose, Lorig is a U.S. Olympian now. At long last.

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