Let the (Hunger) Games begin

March 22, 2012, 9 a.m. (ET)

Khatuna Lorig is a four-time Olympic archer who earned a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992. Although her main goal is to make the U.S. Olympic Team for the London 2012 Olympic Games, she has also taken aim at the big screen as the coach of actress Jennifer Lawrence in the much-anticipated movie, "The Hunger Games," which will be released March 23. In the role of Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence had to do a lot of hunting and Hollywood wanted her technique to be on target so it enlisted Khatuna Lorig for help. In interviews, Jennifer Lawrence called her training "physical" and "fun." On "The Hunger Games" website, Lorig said, “I told her I would be very proud when I see her onscreen. I told her, I’ll see her on the screen and say, ‘That’s my student!’ And you know what she said? She said, ‘When I see you in the Olympics, I’ll say, ‘She’s my coach!'"

TeamUSA.org caught up with Khatuna Lorig about her behind-the-scenes role in the film:

In a trailer for the new movie, "The Hunger Games," the film’s main character, Katniss Everdeen, gets the attention of a roomful of people by shooting an arrow from long distance and knocking the apple out of the mouth of a roasted pig.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, looks the part of the futuristic archer as she coolly pulls back the bow, aims and lets the arrow fly.

Lawrence gets two thumbs up from four-time Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig, who’s seen the trailer.

“What I saw is pretty good,” Lorig said. “The best technique anybody ever had in the movies will probably be her.”

Lorig, after all, was Lawrence’s teacher.

Lorig, 38, a certified archery instructor as well as Olympian — she earned a bronze medal in the team competition at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games — got the call to help Lawrence prepare for her part, and gave her 15, one-hour lessons at the archery range at Woodley Park in Van Nuys, Calif.

Lorig was cast perfectly for her role.

She took up archery at age 12 in her native country of Georgia, which was then part of the Soviet Union. She competed in Barcelona for the Unified Team (the athletic confederation of former Soviet republics), for Georgia in 1996 in Atlanta, and in the 2000 Games in Sydney. She was later naturalized as a U.S. citizen and represented the United States in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where she placed fifth in the individual competition and also was selected to be Team USA’s flag bearer at Closing Ceremony. She’s now trying to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in London. She is based at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

In addition to working with Jennifer Lawrence, Lorig also helped Academy Award winner Geena Davis in her effort to make the Olympic Games.

Five things to know about the transformation of Jennifer Lawrence from a novice to apparent dead-eye heroine under Lorig’s tutelage:

Training, Step I: For Lawrence, who gained fame when she was nominated at age 20 for Best Actress for her role in the 2010 film “Winter’s Bone,” archery was something new. She’d never fired an arrow, so instruction began from scratch. The first thing Lorig teaches is safety, for the archer and everyone else. So she taught Lawrence — who was using an Olympic-style, light youth bow — how to stand and proper alignment as she faced her target. Keeping her shoulders in alignment was crucial, Lorig said, because with a bad alignment, “If you shoot incorrectly, with an Olympic bow, even in light pound, you can get hit in your arm, the bow arm, and it’s painful. She got hit once and it was very painful. But she’s a strong girl and she just kept pushing, practicing.” Lorig said Lawrence was nervous about her first few arrows, but then relaxed and had fun.

Training, Step 2: After a couple of lessons, Lorig moved Lawrence back to shoot from longer distances. Lawrence shot from both standing and kneeling positions, and went through drills about how to release the string (“It’s a 1-2-3 drill,” says Lorig) and drills to ensure her correct stance. Again, safety was emphasized at every step. “If you shoot right, you don’t get hurt,” Lorig said. “If you shoot not right, you get hurt.”

Hitting the bull’s-eye (on and off screen): By the time the 15 lessons were over, Lorig said Lawrence had solid technique. Plus, Lorig said, “She was hitting the target very well. She was shooting and grouping very nice.” But hitting the target really wasn’t important. What was important, Lorig said, was getting Lawrence to the point where she looked like she would hit the target. She just needed to look skilled. “She’s not really going to hunt,” Lorig said. “All she needed was to look good on camera, and she did that really well.” Once the camera captures her releasing the arrow, movie magic takes care of the rest.

Making a connection: Lawrence and Lorig hit it off. They enjoyed their hours together on the range. “We talked and laughed a lot,” Lorig said. “We both agreed we were on the same page because of the many things we discussed related to our jobs, like she travels, I travel. We talked a lot about our personal lives, ourselves. We were joking and having fun. Archery’s fun. It was talking, shooting and enjoying.”

The assessment: Lorig said her sessions weren’t enough to turn Lawrence into a pro, but they were enough for Lawrence to act like one. “She just had to look confident because she’s a hunter, she knows what she’s doing,” Lorig said. “She’s an actress and that’s what actresses do, be confident in your character and play it on the screen.” Lorig said archery instructors and top-tier archers might see things in Lawrence’s technique they can quibble with, but Lorig wasn’t there on set to help or correct. She taught her lessons, then let go. Lorig knows Lawrence will be far better than most movie archers. “If anyone who knows archery looks at her, she has a lot better technique than (the archers in) ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” she said, laughing.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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