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May 26, 2015

Archer Khatuna Lorig Still Hungers For Gold

Khatuna Lorig practices ahead of the first world cup of the season in May 2015 in California.

Khatuna Lorig taught actress Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot arrows so she'd look convincing in the life-or-death situations of the Hunger Games.

Lorig's arena is the Olympic Games. She has already competed in five editions going back to 1992, and while winning a gold medal is not life or death, the 41-year-old archer is pursuing it with every fiber of her being.

"I believe in myself that the one thing I am dreaming about, the Olympic gold medal, I'm going to get it," said Lorig.

On a windy day in London three years ago, Lorig barely missed the bronze medal, placing fourth for the highest individual finish by a U.S. archer since the 2000 Olympic Games.

"It kills me and fires me up the same time," she said. "That's how close I got, and I'm not quitting until I get that medal."

First, Lorig, ranked No. 12 in the world, has to help Team USA qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, although that won't guarantee her own ticket to Brazil next year.

Lorig and two teammates half her age, LaNola Pritchard and Ariel Gibilaro, are competing this week in Antalya, Turkey, in the Stage 2 of the Archery World Cup. They'll shoot together at the Pan American Games in Toronto in mid-July before heading to the world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 26-Aug. 2.

The U.S. can clinch an Olympic team berth, as well as three individual slots, by placing in the top eight at worlds. The 2016 U.S. Olympic Archery Team members will be determined by a qualification process starting in September.

Khatuna Lorig celebrates with teammates LaNola Pritchard and Ariel Gibilaro at Archery World Cup Stage 1 after securing the bronze medal on May 10, 2015 in Shanghai.

In the first world cup in Shanghai, China, two weeks ago, Lorig, Pritchard and Gibilaro took home the bronze medal. The U.S. led Japan going into the fourth and final set. All three U.S. archers planted a series of arrows in the nine ring before Lorig shot the final arrow - into the X10 - for the win.

"This is the best shooting and mental preparation that I've ever seen from Khatuna," said U.S. coach Guy Krueger. "Her age has nothing to do with how much potential she has at this moment. She can keep going as long as she wants to go."

Krueger, who has known Lorig since they competed on teams together, believes she is taking a different approach mentally this year.

"There's a peace of mind there," he said. "She's realizing all the years that she's worked hard, it's really added up now. She's got a lot of confidence in her shot right now and her equipment, and she has an unbelievable amount of trust in her teammates."

Lorig has seen plenty of teammates come and go. She was born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and competed for the Unified Team in 1992, winning a team bronze medal and placing sixth in the individual event.

She shot for Georgia at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, then sat out the Athens 2004 Games because of citizenship issues. After being sworn in as an American, Lorig competed for the U.S. in Beijing, placing fifth.

"So many times I got so close," she said.

Lorig's London defeat is still fresh on her mind because of the way she lost.

She competed in the second semifinal match, falling to the eventual gold medalist, Ki Bo-Bae of Korea.

"Right after that, I had maybe 10-15 minutes break, then they took me straight to the bronze-medal match," Lorig said. "I was so upset not making that gold medal match because of one lousy shot - one lousy shot! - I didn't have time to recover. I felt alone. It happened so quick, I didn't have time to talk to anyone. There was no one to tell me, 'Hey, snap out of it.'''

Khatuna Lorig competes at Stage 4 of the 2014 Archery World Cup in Wroclaw, Poland, on Aug. 6, 2014.

Lorig returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, where she has lived off and on since 2006, and rededicated herself. In 2013, she and Brady Ellison won a silver medal at the world championships in the mixed team event.

Lorig prides herself on her fitness, recently turning down an offer go out for ice cream, although that doesn't keep her from baking.

Her teammates love her baklava. "I can't eat a lot - I'm trying to stay in shape," Lorig said. "These kids are burning calories like no tomorrow, so I bake it for them."

Lorig, who also calls West Hollywood home, rooms with Gibilaro while Pritchard lives elsewhere at the OTC.

"This place motivates you to train," said Lorig. "It motivates you because you live in a place where you don't have to cook, you don't have to clean up, you just wake up and come to the field. You have nothing to worry about. They all take care of me here."

And she is taking care of her new teammates.

"Khatuna likes to go out and do her job and really work hard, and in the past she could be very independent," Krueger said. "With these younger girls, she is really guiding them and motivating them and pushing them. She's really pouring her experience into them, which is awesome to see."

Lorig said that at first she was very careful about what she said to the 20-year-olds.

"They are new to the team and you don't want them to take it the wrong way," she said. "I smile a lot, make them feel better. They are just learning, and I know exactly how to deal with pressure and how to get over a bad shot.

"They are young, but they're such sweet kids. They're fun. They're very positive kids, so hopefully they'll stay like that and that way we will win lots of medals, I believe."

Since 2012, Lorig has offered private lessons as long as they don't interfere with her own training, which she said is now "smart, not hard and crazy." Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kirby Griffin has been one of her pupils.

On Twitter, Lorig shares videos of slow-motion shots of her training. They usually get 20,000-30,000 views, with the most popular garnering 55,000 views and more than 1,000 shares.

Lorig said that in addition to believing in yourself, dedication and hard work, a good archer needs "overall to have fun and not be miserable."

Her son Levan, 22, shows promise in the sport.

"He's shooting on and off," said Lorig, noting that he is going back to college. She said he only challenges her to a match "when I come home really exhausted from a very long trip. That's the only time he can ever get close to beat me."

She laughed. "He doesn't realize he needs to train like Mom."

Lorig was a 12-year-old with a lot of energy when she first picked up a recurve bow.

It was an outlet for "a troublemaker kid," she said, "always breaking something."

Her father told her about the Olympics. "He said, 'It's an event that once a champion, always a champion.' I said, 'Oh I like that.'"

Her first Opening Ceremony introduced her to what she calls "the magical 16 days of peace. I'm addicted to that, once every four years."

In London, Lorig and her teammates actually competed the morning of the Opening Ceremony and had the option of skipping the festivities. Lorig wouldn't hear of it. She wanted to be part of it.

In 2000, while competing for Georgia, team officials refused to allow her to attend. "I was sad," she said. "I wanted to see the flame go on. So I'm glad I'm in a free country."

At the Beijing Games, Lorig carried the U.S. flag at the Closing Ceremony, an honor voted by the U.S. team captains.

"I almost had a heart attack from the surprise like that," Lorig said. "When I got the call that I was the one that got the most votes, I was shocked and crying and excited at the same time. I would say I can dream more about flying to the moon than dream about that, so that was my gold medal from Beijing."

But she still wants a real Olympic medal from Rio next year, and even if she gets it, she won't retire before the 2020 Games.

"Oh, I love sushi," Lorig said. "I'm definitely going to Tokyo."

Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to since 2009.

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