Blockbuster Hollywood movies like The Hunger Games and Brave have played a crucial role for reshaping the landscape of archery, according to Olympic hopeful Sarah Bettles, writes Tom Dean.
The 26-year-old was part of the Great Britain team that secured 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games qualification at the World Championships in the Netherlands last month.
This summer has seen female athletes catapulted into the spotlight at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Netball World Cup.
But Bettles began noticing a change her sport some time ago – and it came from the big screen.
In 2012 The Hunger Games hit cinemas with bow-wielding heroine Katniss Everdeen, portrayed by Oscar-winning actor Jennifer Lawrence, capturing the imaginations of millions.
And although Beetle doesn’t cite the Gary Ross movie as her own inspiration, she is acutely aware that without it, and Disney’s Brave, there would be far fewer females in the talent pool when the Olympics roll around in exactly one year’s time.
“I think that there is a much better gender balance in archery now than there was ten or 15 years ago and that is down to movies like Brave and The Hunger Games,” said Bettles.
“There’s been a large influx in female archers after those movies, there’s certainly more females with the confidence to pick up a bow now.
“I heard a lot of students come along to the archery society while I was at university and said ‘I just watched The Hunger Games and I wanted to give it a go’.
“I think there is also a slight misconception in the sport that females aren’t strong enough but the sport uses different muscles to what you might expect.
“I have seen big strong rugby players struggle with bows and yet some very small female athletes do it with ease and are very good at it.”
Bettles first started shooting for fun as a 13-year-old but after just a few years of participation, other priorities minimised the amount of free time she had and the bow went into storage.
It wasn’t until she arrived at Cardiff University to study medical engineering that she got back into the sport and rapidly discovered that she had the talent to compete at a national level.
Since graduation and subsequently leaving her job at an artificial joint manufacturer, the recurver from Romford has been drawing on the experience of training partner and four-time Olympian Naomi Foulard ahead of what she hopes will be a landmark achievement next year.
“I have never experienced an archery atmosphere like the one in the Netherlands when we qualified and I think that just shows how much was riding on it and the direction that our sport is moving in,” said Bettles.
“Competing at an Olympic Games is something that comes with a lot of prestige – it is always the one be-all and end-all dream for any athlete.
“Three years ago I would never have even thought that it would be a remote possibility that I can become an Olympian.
“Now we are just one year away, I have been on this crazy upwards trajectory and now it will just be full-time training and a few trips back home to Essex each month.”