Mixed relays make their Olympic debut

TOKYO – After winning bronze in one of the new Olympic events at the Tokyo Games, Mexican Alejandra Valencia remembered when her partner nearly blew it up.

“I just said, ‘It’s okay, you know how to do it!’ », She remembers. “And I gave him a little punch.”

Valencia partner Luis Alvarez missed his first arrow of the second set in mixed team archery. But supported in part by Valencia’s pep talk, Alvarez refocused as the Mexicans beat a two-person team from Turkey and climbed the medal podium together.

In Tokyo, more men and women than ever are joining forces to compete in a series of mixed events making their Olympic debut: relay in athletics and swimming, mixed pistol and rifle competitions on the shooting range, mixed judo and mixed table tennis.

The most publicized moments to date for the mixed events came on Saturday, with the final in the 4×100-meter medley relay in swimming and the 4×400-meter relay in track and field.

When the 4×400 mixed relay was added to the Olympic program in 2018, it looked like a certain medal – maybe even a gold medal – for the United States, which had only lost the men’s version of the Olympic relay by two. times since 1984. American Women have won their event every year since 1996.

That record translated into self-confidence heading into the final, even though Allyson Felix, the country’s most decorated female track athlete – and one of the best quarter-miles in the world – chose not to participate. at the event. If she had, it might have allowed Felix to win a 10th Olympic medal among the best in the world.

But if the inaugural version of the race proved anything, it’s that this event could end up being one of the most unpredictable of the Games. A huge crash swept away Germany and almost wiped out Jamaica.

When Vernon Norwood took over from Kaylin Whitney, the United States was in fourth place. Norwood circled around the back stretch, and by the time he exited the far corner he was in the process of moving to second place. Poland ended up winning the race, and Alexander Ogando of the Dominican Republic edged Norwood by a hundredth of a second to win the silver medal. The United States finished with bronze.

In total, seven sports added mixed events, which proved popular among athletes while helping Olympic officials create the appearance of greater gender equality, a hot topic at the Games for decades.

“Mixed events are really important to us because I think they embody the equality of male and female athletes on the playing field,” said Kit McConnell, Sporting Director of the International Olympic Committee. “In some ways, there is nothing more equal than a man and a woman competing as one team on the same playing field.”

The Olympics also unveiled the mixed triathlon relay on Saturday, as teams of four – two men and two women – faced off. Each athlete had to swim 300 meters, cycle 6.8 kilometers and then run 2 kilometers before clapping a teammate’s hand to start their relay stage. The United States came away with money. It was the second Games medal for Katie Zaferes, who won bronze in the women’s individual race.

“Having the camaraderie and running as a team gives you so much energy, and that makes it even more important,” Zaferes said. “When you run for yourself, that’s one thing. But when other people are counting on you, it’s a whole different feeling.

Hours later, it was chaos in the pool as swimming staged the 4×100-meter medley final. The race requires two men and two women to swim the 100-meter backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle, in that order. But each country can decide who swims which swims, regardless of gender, making racing a mathematical and tactical calculation.

“I love the strategy,” said Duncan Scott, who won three medals for Great Britain at the Tokyo Games.

On Saturday, the race’s unique setup meant gold medalist Lydia Jacoby in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke finished the second leg for the United States against Britain’s Adam Peaty, the men’s world record holder. Caeleb Dressel, the men’s 100-meter freestyle champion, then anchored the Americans trying to swim down three women, but was too far behind and was slowed down by the choppy water swirling in front of him. The United States was fifth, three seconds behind Great Britain, whose relay team set a world record.

There is often a learning curve for those involved in new events – and that apparently includes athletics officials. On Friday, in a qualifying round for the mixed 4×400-meter relay, the American team was briefly disqualified for passing the baton outside the exchange zone between the first leg and the second leg. After a call, the team was reinstated when it was determined that a race official had lined up Lynna Irby, one of the American runners, in the wrong place.

The final is Saturday. As with swimming, each team can choose when the men and women race, which makes the event particularly interesting for viewers who must try to figure out who has a tactical advantage. Each team in the final had women in second and third place and men in the lead and anchor.

Of the approximately 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo, around 49 percent are women, according to the IOC, a significant increase from previous Games. The committee itself, however, remains predominantly male, with women making up only a third of its board.

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