What is the new triathlon mixed relay?

Cassandre Beaugrand of France shake hands with her team mate at the ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships during the Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon in 2019 (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
Cassandre Beaugrand of France shake hands with her team mate at the ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships during the Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon in 2019 (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Triathlon mixed relay will make its debut in Tokyo next year, but do you know what's involved? We asked athletes and coaches on their thoughts of the new Olympic discipline, and why it promises to be a fascinating and frantic race to the finish.

It’s "fast and furious", said Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee.

On 31 July 2021, the triathlon mixed relay will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 and the world will be able to watch one of the Games' most furious events.

Ten teams will compete in the race with each one comprising of four athletes: two men and two women.

The race will go by in a flash - less than 90 minutes. It's fast, it's tactical and it's exhausting.

I feel a lot of adrenaline in mixed relay.

We don’t have it when we run alone.

What is involved in mixed triathlon?

Each athlete will have to swim for 300m, cycle for 8km and run for 2km before tapping the hand of their teammate to pass the relay.

The time of a race is usually less than 90 minutes, with each triathlete's effort generally lasting around 20 minutes.

"I think it’s fantastic that men and women get to race together, and it’s great for spectators because it’s fast and furious," said Brownlee.

A different kind of pressure is also felt when taking part in the event, as France's 2018 and 2020 World Champion Léonie Périault explained to Tokyo 2020.

"The team spirit is awesome. I feel a lot of adrenaline in mixed relay. We don’t have it when we run alone. I’m not competing alone, I want to go beyond the edge for my teammates."

"This little fear, not to succeed and make the whole team fail... it makes us thrill!"

In triathlon, the only relay that is competed at international level is mixed, and it’s success has paved the way for it to be a staple on the international sporting calendar.

When did the mixed relay in triathlon start?

This relatively new discipline began in 2009 when the first World Championships were held, and its level of popularity has only grown.

A year later the discipline made its debut at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

In 2014, the Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships were held in Hamburg for the first time. Ever since, the German city has played host to the annual event. In 2016, some 250,000 spectators lined the streets.

It will make its Summer Olympic Games debut next year at Tokyo 2020.

What’s new about the discipline?

Beyond bringing more equality to the most gender-balanced Games in history, the triathlon mixed relay will bring "unity between male and female athletes", according to Iñaki Arenal, the head coach of the Spanish triathlon mixed relay team, who spoke to Tokyo 2020.

He said the event will bring "different tactics due to the great variability the competition has through its segments, and above all, it is a very spectacular event because it is really fast".

To compensate for the different tactics involved, training strategies have been modified to fit in with the many challenges the new sport presents.

Arenal takes that into account when planning training sessions at the national training camp.

"Obviously for mixed relay the athletes need to be stronger and faster, so we have to change the pace of the training sessions in order to improve the power than the endurance," he said.

Athletes have to increase their power as the race distance is significantly shorter compared to an Olympic Triathlon, which involves a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle and a 10km run.

Mixed Relay - Triathlon | YOG 2018 Highlights
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For the athletes, the event is a good opportunity for redemption - the ability for one final shot at winning a medal.

"You only had one chance in the past," explained Brownlee, "So if you lost, that was it."

In order for the athletes to give their all, as Arenal said, tactics play a significant part. Despite the order of athletes being fixed - female, male, female, male - the decision on where athlete fills these slots is crucial.

"We never know the composition, neither the order of the athlete, long before the race," Périault said.

"And this order has changed a lot. We always gather together, and each athlete gives his opinion and we define the order."

Who to watch?

Mixed relay has been dominated by France over the past three years and last week in Hamburg, they secured their third consecutive world title - their fourth in six years.

They are expected to be among the favourites for Tokyo 2020, and already have experience of winning in the city, having previously won the Olympic test event in 2019.

For Périault, Team France is dominating because of their homogeneity and unity.

"We don’t have any weak points," she said.

"The team changes a lot but we always manage to perform. We have a very homogeneous team. We also know each other very well, and that is a strong point of Team France. We have a nice ambience and we are all united."

With Brownlee - along with his brother Jonny, himself an Olympic silver and bronze medallist - Great Britain will be among those targeting top spot on the podium.

Team GB finished third in the 2020 World Championship, but Alistair is determined to secure gold in both the mixed and individual events.

"I’d absolutely love to get two gold medals for Great Britain," he said.

Of course, Team USA will also be one to watch as they finished second in the 2017 and 2020 World Championships, as well as third in 2018.

It promises to be a fascinating and frantic race to the finish.

Hands up for Triathlon Mixed Team Relay
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