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American women archers aim to break through at London Olympics

Three-member team loses to China in the quarterfinals, but all three athletes will compete in the individual event Monday.

July 29, 2012|By Stacy St. Clair
  • Miranda Leek releases a shot during the women's team competition in archery on Sunday.
Miranda Leek releases a shot during the women's team competition… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)

LONDON -- Miranda Leek knows that she can seize a once-unimaginable opportunity when she picks up her bow Monday.

Not just for herself or for the U.S. archery team, but for her entire sport.

Thanks in part to the popularity of several arrow-filled movies, the American public has never been so interested in archery. Program enrollment is up 20% over the last year and the U.S. team's Twitter following has quadrupled in recent weeks.

"I know we're getting a lot of attention from movies like the 'Avengers,' 'Brave' and 'The Hunger Games,' " Leek said. "It's remarkable, really good stuff."

The U.S. team built even more momentum for the sport Saturday with a surprise silver medal in the men's team competition. The three-man squad, which has dubbed itself "a band of brothers," won the country's first medal in these Games and USA Archery's first medal since 2000.

The women's team tried to emulate its male counterparts Sunday, but the trio lost to China, the eventual silver medalists, 218-213, in the quarterfinals at Lord's Cricket Ground. The match had several thrilling moments, including a 10-shot from Leek on her opening attempt.

"It was definitely a good feeling," said Leek, a 19-year-old college student from Des Moines. "That's the way you want to start a match."

The American women, who scored a surprising second place in the ranking rounds, faltered on a few shots and China was there to capitalize each time. The U.S. women have not won a medal since 1988, the year the sport was introduced.

"We had not enough luck," Khatuna Lorig said. "We shot strong, but China shot better. We shot some 10s, but we could have done better."

South Korea won its seventh straight gold medal in the team event, ahead of China and Japan.

All three U.S. women's team members will compete in the individual event Monday, when they say they will once again draw inspiration from the men's silver medal.

"We always want to beat the boys," Leek said laughing. "They kind of lit a fire in all of us."

The team's male star, Brady Ellison, also will compete in the men's individual event, where he is favored to win the United States' first gold medal in archery. With his easygoing personality, he will be a magnet for the morning and late-night talk shows over the next fortnight.

After his team claimed the silver Saturday, Ellison acknowledged his sport's increasing popularity.

"The movies have really raised the profile of archery and the media does a great job of keeping people interested," he said.

Indeed, the U.S. team's ties to "The Hunger Games" have received tremendous attention from the British press in recent days. Much of the spotlight has been directed at Lorig, a certified archery instructor who taught actress Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot for the movie.

"She was lovely," Lorig told reporters. "We had a great time coaching and working together."

Given her connection to the movie, Lorig was one of six Olympians featured in a recent Glamour magazine spread. She and her fellow archery teammates also will appear on the cover of a special-edition DVD for "The Hunger Games" when it is released next month.

That rare spotlight stands to grow even brighter if one of the U.S. women wins a medal in the individual competition.

Leek knows this, but she says that she's simply trying to keep her arrows straight and hope the odds are ever in her favor.

"I want to go out there and shoot strong shots," she said. "I hope to just do my job."

sstclair@tribune.com

twitter.comstacystclair

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