The judo mixed team event will make its debut at next year's Olympics in Tokyo, but do you know what's involved? We asked athletes and coaches for their thoughts about the new Olympic discipline, and why it promises to be as thrilling as the individual competition.
The Nippon Budokan is known as the spiritual home of martial arts, particularly for judo. The venue hosted the Tokyo 1964 judo competition and will once again play host during Tokyo 2020.
Despite its rich history and tradition, the importance of the Nippon Budokan is not just rooted in the past. Next year will highlight how the Games are moving forward with a new discipline that will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020: the judo mixed team event.
What's involved in the mixed team event?
This new event will include teams of six athletes from different weight categories, including three men (-73kg, -90kg and +90kg) and three women (-57kg, -70kg and +70kg).
Athletes who take part will first have competed in the individual competition and there will be at least 12 different teams participating. A quarter-final repechage system will be in place, with four mixed teams chosen to be the top four based on the 28 June 2021 Teams World Ranking List.
Nation will compete against nation, with rounds composed of six individual bouts where each athlete will match up against the corresponding athlete in their weight category. The winner of each bout will be awarded one point and the minimum score a team will need to progress to the next round will be 4:2.
In the event of a 3:3 draw, the International Federation of Judo (IFJ) have set out the following rules: "If there are an equal number of wins (this is 3:3 for seniors) at the end of the match, a draw is done from all categories regardless if the team has a player or not (if both teams don’t have a player in the same category, this category will be not included in draw). The athletes in the drawn category will refight a golden score contest."
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What’s new about the discipline?
"We would like to thank Japan for all their support and for the chance to have this event for the first time in Tokyo," said Marius L. Vizer, president of the IJF in 2017, when the announcement was made that the judo mixed team event would be part of the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.
"I believe the mixed team event in the Olympics will strongly contribute to the popularity of the Olympic Movement and to the values of the Olympic Games," he continued.
For a Games that will be the most gender balanced in history, it was another example of the commitment of Tokyo 2020 to gender equality and union through sport.
“Judo is an individual sport but it’s also a team sport and this mixed event reinforces the relation between the individuals in Team France. Especially due to the fact that it’s a mixed competition. It’s even stronger and it allows us to consider Team France as a single entity. To be with men is cool," said the French 2019 -78kg world champion Madeleine Malonga.
Mixed competition allows to consider Team France as a single entity.
Madeleine Malonga, 2019 world champion
Ney Wilson Pereira, the High Performance Manager of the Brazilian Judo Confederation, had this to say on the subject: "The mixed team event will give the Olympic programme gender equality, offering the same opportunities to and creating a climate of integration between the male and female team. I think it brings a much more favourable climate."
But it will also bring even more thrilling action.
"I think that it (the judo mixed team competition) removes characteristics from athletes who are very individualistic, and when you work as a team you work in a different way. You have to think differently, you have to work as a group, depending on the rest of the team. And this brings greater integration to the team and a new possibility to understand the athlete who likes to integrate, who participates, in the sense of a group and not an individual. And this can also be a factor in the choice of athletes who will go to the Games,” he said.
The mixed team event involves the emotional side, even more than the individual side, because everyone fights according to the team.
Ney Wilson Pereira, High Performance Manager at the Brazilian Judo Confederation
According to Pereira, the addition of the mixed team event will also have an effect on the individual competition as well as impacting team training sessions, given how different the individual and team competitions are from each other and the fact the team competition follows the individual competition.
"I think there are two completely different competitions and that will be a great challenge for the coaches too. The Olympic Games are already emotionally draining and recuperating an athlete who has lost or bringing an athlete who has won back to the competition and helping them to succeed in the team competition will be a great challenge for coaches of those teams,” Pereira remarked.
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Teams to watch out for
As this is a new Olympic discipline, there are no past references to look back on. As such, while some nations may be favoured due to the strength of their individual athletes, it doesn’t guarantee the success of the team.
"It’s a very vibrant competition. It is a competition where, in many cases, the favourite doesn’t win the championship. I think it involves the emotional side, even more than the individual side, because everyone fights for the team, they fight for a result and that is even more demanding. I think this competition has everything required to bring good vibes to the fans and the television viewers,” said Pereira.
Having said that, some teams have excelled in international mixed team competitions. And one of those teams is the host country, Japan. Apart from competing on home soil, the quality of the Japanese team is outstanding. In 2019 they won the last mixed team event at the Judo World Championship that was also held in Japan. It was their third World Championship title in a row - starting with the very first time the discipline was officially included in the competition in 2017.
In the 2019 event, France finished second while the Russian Federation and Brazil won bronze medals. In the same year, Germany won the first European Championship mixed team competition.
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The Republic of Korea will also be among the favourites heading into next year's Games, while Brazil, with one silver and one bronze from the past three world championships, are sure to be a force to be reckoned with.
"Brazil have traditionally had good results in team competitions and competed well. At the last World Championship we won bronze and we have 10 medals from Team World Championships. So, I believe we have a strong chance of getting onto the Olympic podium and we are going to the Games with that objective,” explained Pereira.
However, Pereira also believes that anything could happen when the mixed team event makes its Tokyo 2020 debut.
The only thing that is certain is that the spiritual home of martial arts will play host to more thrilling action at next year’s Olympic Games.