Rebecca Jones of New Zealand, topped becoming the first NZ archer to be selected for the Youth Olympic Games by finishing 7th in the competition.
Despite seeding 31st of 32 archers, she fought her way to the quarterfinals, after dramatically upsetting the number two seed Uehara Ruka of Japan in a shootoff in her first match. She then beat Quinn Reddig of Namibia and finally coming up short against Valentina Vasquez of Mexico.
“I wasn’t even expecting to get this far through so it’s been really cool. I was just out there doing what I could and having a good time. I was just having fun shooting,” she told World Archery.
“It’s been so amazing. I feel so proud to be part of the New Zealand team and it’s an honour to represent my country here.” The 17-year-old had claimed New Zealand’s Youth Olympic Games spot at the Oceania Championships in New Caledonia in July.
But what is more remarkable is that Jones took up archery around six years ago after being directly inspired by the Hunger Games’ fictional character Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games is a trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, adapted a decade ago into a series of highly successful films starring Jennifer Lawrence as the heroine. The independent, stoic character of Everdeen is intrinsically tied to her ability with a bow to survive in a dystopian world, and the movies and novels have created one of the great modern archery icons.
Many commentators and articles have attributed the global rise of target archery in the last few years to the influence of the The Hunger Games, particularly among young women taking up the sport. With the film releases bookended by the London and Rio Olympic Games, the spike of interest in the sport has been marked. USA Archery even wrote an open letter to Collins a few years ago, thanking her for making the sport “hot” after seeing their membership double in just two years earlier in the decade.
Jones’ qualification and high finish is a very public demonstration of the importance of culture and entertainment in moving people towards the sport.
“The only experience I had with archery before watching The Hunger Games was at a school camp.” she told Bow this month. “I missed the target with every arrow and the string smacked my arm every time. I can’t say it was my favourite activity, and I never ever thought I would be doing it everyday a few years later!”
“I didn’t really have expectations because I just loved the look of archery when Katniss was shooting, and once I got started I loved it. I started at home with bows made out of tree branches and sticks for arrows. After that, recurve was the bow I learnt to shoot on when I first started at a club, with a wooden club bow. I now shoot a Win & Win CXT riser with Wiawis limbs, 38lbs. My expectations of myself are now very high and I set big goals for myself.”
The 17-year-old trains at Christchurch Archery Club. Archery is not a large sport in New Zealand – there is no funding and the last membership count listed 378 archers – but the community is very active and there are competitions all over the country.
Jones took back a lot from Buenos Aires. “I want to take from the Games little things that will help me improve my everyday archery. Also lots of information and experience about this type of high-level competition.”
“I want to represent New Zealand at the Olympics. My current aim is for the 2024 Games. I hope that my journey inspires others within the sport, especially from NZ, to take the same or similar pathway in their archery and aim high and really chase their goals. The duvets from the Youth Olympic Village also look pretty cool and we’ve been told we can take them home with us!”
She’s not the only archer inspired by the films, even just in her native New Zealand. “Yes, I have shot with a couple of people who also started because of THG. It’s a great conversation starter! But my goals have definitely changed from wanting to be just like Katniss. Although I do still love the books and movies.”
The Hunger Games is not the only cultural property that has driven interest in archery in the last decade or so; movies including Brave (2012) The Avengers (2012 and on) and the earlier Lord Of The Rings trilogy have also been cited, amongst many others.
There is also a big-budget Hollywood reboot Robin Hood movie being released in the next few months. This is, of course, not exactly the first outing for the character – at a rough count, there have been around eighty films and TV series produced about the most famous archery archetype of all over the last 100 years or so. It will be interesting to see whether it can drive, once again, someone’s lasting interest in the sport.