Khatuna Lorig embodies the athleticism archery demands

Khatuna Lorig poses for ESPN The Magazine's 2015 Body Issue.

Archer Khatuna Lorig spoke with reporter Morty Ain about what it was like to take it all off for ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, teaching Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot, and how her hands are the most important part of her body.

For more from the 2015 Body Issue, check out espn.com/bodyissue! And pick up a copy on newsstands starting July 10.

Nobody should shoot an apple off someone's head; that's dangerous. But if we put an apple on a stick in front of a target, I could probably shoot an apple from 90 yards, no problem.

I taught Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot for The Hunger Games. I taught her how to stand with the right posture, how to keep her chest down and hold up the bow after your shot and really follow through with the back. I had to give her a crash course every time I saw her. But she did great.

Some people think archery is not a real sport. But it takes a whole lot of mental and physical strength. It's a very fun sport and a very easy sport just to do recreationally. But it's a very hard sport to do at a professional level. You need a lot of patience and confidence in archery if you plan on winning competitions.

I'm very confident in myself, and I'd like to share that: I'm 41, and here I am, I'm happy.

Basically from sixth grade on, I wasn't in school, I was training. Archery was introduced to us in middle school [in then-Soviet Georgia], and I would do anything to not have to go to school, so I signed up for it right away.

In the Soviet Union, they don't mess around. You know how we got mentally strong in the Soviet Union? You know those electric chairs? We would have to sit in one. ... There was a computer in front of us and on the screen were two lines, and in between the two lines was a square. The square monitored my heart rate, and it would jump up and down. If this square touched one of those lines, I would get a shock on my wrists. And there were huge noises going off in the room that would distract you. I had to stay calm, because that square was connected to my brain, and if my heart rate jumped, the square would touch the line and that's when I get the shock. You cannot react. You must sit still. When we shoot, we need to stay in an archery bubble. That was a way of teaching us -- but a painful way. You stay in your bubble, you stay concentrated and you achieve your shot.

A yellow jacket sting ... it was that level of pain. That's what our coach did to us when I was 17. Me and one of my teammates, we got better with holding that square steady and staying calm, and the head coach goes, "Well, these two are doing pretty good, turn up the electricity!" At the time it felt normal, but thinking back on it, all I can think is, "Oh my gosh."

I like this country a lot more. Americans are very lucky.

I don't think any female in history has held a heavier bow. Holding it in one arm is about 8 to 9 pounds, but when you pull the string toward your face, that string resistance, or draw weight, is 51 pounds. I've been shooting for 30 years, and I started with a 34-pound bow. Usually men shoot with a 50-to-53-pound bow; women will shoot 40 to 44 pounds.

I don't tell my competition I'm using a 51-pound bow, but they can usually figure it out by the speed at which I shoot. If you can handle the weight, it is always better to have a heavier bow. We are shooting outdoors, so the heavier the bow, the less influence the air will have on it.

I'd say archery is about 70 percent mental strength. It doesn't matter how strong you are, it doesn't matter how many arrows you shoot, the only way you achieve mental strength is competing in competitions. You will fold on that field, you will get scared, you will get confused, you will get distracted, and you won't be able to shoot the shot that you've been training for all this time.

My back muscles are beautiful! Archery has helped sculpt my upper body. I'm in great shape and really happy about that, very satisfied.
Khatuna Lorig

My hands are my life. I'm very protective. I don't cut melons, I don't use knives [laughs]. I try to save my fingers from anything that could possibly cut my hands. Usually when I grab a knife to cut, my friend, my son, my parents or whoever is next to me goes, "Take the knife away from her!"

Before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, I had to hide the fact that I was pregnant. The Soviet Union was kind of complicated; we all know that. So I couldn't tell anyone. I was about four months along. They found out and I got in big trouble. I was kicked off the team three days before Barcelona. There was a huge meeting between the Georgia Olympic Committee and Soviet Union and it was a huge argument. I was only 18. It was a lot of stress -- so much stress I was afraid I was going to lose the baby over it. I don't know what they did, but they put me back on the team. Then everything worked out: I got back with the team and I shot really well and got the bronze in '92.

When you love something, you'll find a way to continue it. Before the 1996 Olympic Games, it was a mess because the Soviet Union was no longer, so I chose to train in a basement by candlelight at my Georgian house. We had no electricity, nothing. It was very, very hard, with a baby, horrible economy, just got married. I had an 8-by-10-foot-wide small basement and two candles and would just practice on my own. That was the only goal I had -- just to qualify; I didn't want to miss my Olympic opportunity. You don't want to lose the hope, so I just picked up the bow and kept training in the basement when the baby was sleeping.

My back muscles are beautiful! Archery has helped sculpt my upper body. I'm in great shape and really happy about that, very satisfied. I put up slow-motion videos that focus on my back and on my shoulders, and when I watch them I think, "Damn, I look good!"

Archery is one of the sports where if I cannot use my fingers, I will shoot with my teeth. I would continue anyway I could. Somehow I will find a way. Last year I got injured right before World Championships. I hurt my tendon and I couldn't pull the bow halfway toward my face. It's like your whole life flashes before you: "What happens if I can't do this anymore?"

Getting older makes me better, absolutely. Those competitions that the young ones go into, they are all shaken up -- "Oh my god, it's a world championship!" I've done so many of these competitions. I'm more calm, more confident and more in my archery bubble. I was very nervous my first Olympics and second Olympics and third Olympics. But these last two, I was more mentally strong than I have ever been. All I see right now is me getting better and more confident as I'm getting older.

This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2015. The Body Issue hits newsstands July 10. Subscribe today!

Richard Phibbs

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