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Archery is catching fire among Toronto girls

Consider it the Katniss effect.

Young girls keen to shoot a bow and arrow have overloaded Toronto archery schools so much that waiting lists have amassed more than 100 hopefuls.

The sudden surge in popularity has been connected to the Hunger Games film and movie franchise, with Jennifer Lawrence topping the current box office as ace archeress Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire.

“Without a doubt it’s because of the movie. It’s the only thing we can account the huge increase in numbers we have,” said Joan McDonald, who coaches the Canadian Olympic team and teaches youth classes through Bullseye Buccaneers, a Toronto archery school.

“We certainly have more girls sign up than I’ve had for years and years,” she said, adding that enrolment in an all-girls class tripled in just three years.

But there are not enough archery coaches and facilities in Toronto to handle the demand, McDonald said. She stopped keeping count of her waiting list when it hit 30, while another coach said his surpassed 100.

“I keep turning people away, which I have to tell you hurts my soul,” said McDonald, who keeps an eye peeled for Olympic talent. “Maybe I’m missing someone that could be really good.”

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second film in the series, Katniss must once again fight for her life in a futuristic gladiator battle of 24 competitors, or “tributes.”

Fictional characters have long played a role in archery’s appeal. Similar piques of interest have come after the movie releases of TheLord of the Rings, Brave and TheAvengers, all of which feature heroic archers.

“I recently asked the No. 1 ranked junior archer in Canada what caused him to start to archery. He said Legolas,” said McDonald, referring to the elven bowman played by Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings.

Katniss’s physical and emotional fortitude are virtues that don’t get portrayed enough, said professional archer Vanessa Lee.

“I think she is what girls have been missing,” said Lee, 25, a member of Canada’s national archery team. “We’ve always had Disney princesses saved by their princes, but Katniss is a really strong character. You can’t really get into her thoughts that often; I like that side to her.”

Lee herself was inspired to join archery at age 15 after seeing Park Sung Hyun, a South Korean archer, win double gold medals at the 2004 Olympics.

“I saw her on TV and I wanted to be more like her; her composure really drew me in. Just like many young archers wanting to start now because of Katniss.”

While characters like Katniss may break gender norms, a new line of pink toy weapons by Hasbro seems to show quite the opposite, while cashing in on the same phenomenon.

Just in time for Christmas, the Nerf “Rebelle” weapons include pink and purple bows, guns and crossbows made just for girls.

“Who says you can’t look angelic while you launch a sneak crossbow attack?” an ad for the pink crossbow says.

The Heartbreaker Bow, adorned with fluttering purple phoenix wings, is billed by Hasbro as having “a fierce and feminine look that’s just right for glamorous Nerf Rebelle girls like you.”

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