Evidence of human beings propelling arrows with bows dates back as far as the late Paleolithic Age — over a million years ago. For many centuries, the principal early functions of archery centered around hunting and warfare. It remains fairly popular for hunting still, but the use of a bow and arrow as a weapon of war has all but disappeared. Today, archery is mainly a recreational activity and a sport with Olympic status.
Archery's popularity has increased dramatically in recent years due to the widespread appeal of both the book and the movie The Hunger Games. The author of the The Hunger Games trilogy is Hartford-born Suzanne Collins, who resides with her husband and two children in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown.
The main character in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, is a 16-year-old who is known for her proficiency with the bow and arrow. The widespread appeal of the story — the book has been on the best seller list for over 130 weeks — helps explain the public's renewed interest in archery.
In fact, in a recent Washington Post article, NBC has acknowledged that in its first week of Olympic coverage, archery was by far the most popular sport watched by viewers — even more popular than basketball!
Archery debuted as an Olympic event in 1900 and was an event in four of the first six Olympiads; however, from 1920- 1972 archery was not part of the Olympic Games. In the 14 Olympiads that have included archery, the United States ranks second overall, just behind the modern archery powerhouse teams from South Korea. The South Koreans dominated the London games this year by capturing three golds and one bronze; the American team managed only a silver in the team competition this year.
Missing from the American archery team this year for the first time in five Olympiads is Connecticut's own Richard "Butch" Johnson from Woodstock. The 56-year-old Johnson just missed qualifying for the team this year but remains one of the best archers in the world. Johnson was a key member of the 1996 American gold medal team in Atlanta. He was also part of the 2000 bronze medal team and still may compete in Rio in 2016.
Butch Johnson can sometimes be found at Hall's Arrow facility at 240 West Middle Turnpike in Manchester, giving personal lessons to aspiring Olympians. Hall's facility is the largest indoor archery range in New England and gives lessons to archers of all ability levels.
In one of the most famous scenes in Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home to Ithaca disguised as a beggar. He then enters a contest sponsored by his wife Penelope to string Odysseus's mighty bow and to fire an arrow through the eyelets of 12 ax handles — a feat that only Odysseus had been able to achieve. He succeeds, then slays the suitors who had been pursuing his wife and resumes his rightful place at her side. His unparalleled expertise with a bow undoubtedly inspired many generations of Greek warriors.
In a similar way, another work of literature — The Hunger Games — has inspired interest in archery in a new generation thanks to the writing skill of Connecticut native Suzanne Collins. Those young people have available to them the largest indoor archery range in New England located in Manchester, where they can be coached by the most famous American archer of the modern era, five-time Olympian and Connecticut native, Richard "Butch" Johnson!
There can be little doubt that Connecticut is at the center of archery's renaissance.