After taking his third gold medal in Tokyo, British swimmer Adam Peaty said: “It’s a fun event and that’s what the sport needs. It has to be fun. “
They had been part of the first British mixed relay swimming team to compete in the Olympics, breaking the world record in the 4x100m relay in the process of becoming their first champions.
It was just one of three new mixed relay events that debuted at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, with a second gold success for Team GB in the mixed triathlon relay. It has ensured them a state of instant success at home. The introduction of the new events is part of the International Olympic Committee’s push to achieve gender parity at the Games.
There was great warmth from the British teammates in their post-race comments. In the triathlon, Georgia Taylor-Brown, who had won silver in the individual event, enjoyed the opportunity to race alongside one of her heroes, Jonny Brownlee: “We just want to inspire, and that’s what Alistair Brownlee and Jonny did. Brownlee for us, and I hope we can do that for the next generation. “
In addition to praising the fun nature of the event itself, Peaty also had kind words for his teammates, saying, “It is inspiring to be a part of the team that is always looking for the 1%, always looking for more.”
The relative novelty of the formats at this level also made for interesting tactical choices in swimming. Each section can be swum by a man or a woman, leading to a first stage in Tokyo that featured a race divided between four men and four women.
The event ended with the vision of the American medal machine Caeleb Dressel trying to recover a large deficit from Anna Hopkin of the GB team. He couldn’t believe it, exclaiming after the race “I beat Dressel!” He later added that he had “tried not to look where he was.”
Tokyo organizers have added nine more mixed events to those held at Rio 2016, meaning 18 are held in Japan.
The 4x400m mixed relay in athletics has been received with less enthusiasm. With the exception of the Netherlands’ rising star Femke Bol, most of the teams for Saturday’s final had a bit of power. The United States switched the four athletes from the qualifying event to compete with a completely different quartet, without their biggest names. Poland took the gold.
But there has been support for the changes from some prominent athletes. Former Olympic champion Andy Murray, longtime tennis equality champion, tweeted: “How good are coed events in sport? They are a great asset and many sports lose a trick by not supporting / promoting them more. “
Another co-ed team event that will debut at the Olympics on Saturday was judo. The hosts narrowly lost the mixed final to France at the Nippon Budokan, where it was the final event of the competition.
The addition of mixed relay races is not the only notable shift towards women’s sport. Since it was introduced in 1972, canoe slalom had always featured more categories for men than for women. That changed this year, with the fall of the men’s competition and the introduction of the women’s C1. Jess Fox from Australia became the first women’s champion, having lobbied heavily for inclusion. Mallory Franklin of Great Britain took silver, saying that in the past she hadn’t taken it seriously because “much of it was attributed to girls not being strong enough.”
The IOC has said it is committed to the changes. Before Tokyo, the IOC adapted the rules of the opening ceremony, to allow the joint participation of flag bearers, in the hope that teams will select one male and one female athlete to represent their nation. He also boasted that 49% of athletes competing in Tokyo would be women, the highest level and a sharp increase since the figure stood at 34% in 1996.
Even getting close to gender equality has been a long wait for women. They were not allowed to compete at all in the first Olympics in 1896, and then in 1900, they were only allowed to play tennis, golf, sailing, and croquet. Such was the strength of sentiment that Alice Milliat established the Women’s World Games as a quadrennial alternative to the Olympic Games, which ran between 1922 and 1934, ultimately forcing the IOC to admit women’s athletics.
But for many years there continued to be sports that were simply male at the Olympics. Water polo, powerlifting, and the modern pentathlon for women were only added as recently as the Sydney 2000 Games, and women have only been allowed to box since London 2012.
The program for the Paris 2024 Games has yet to be finalized, but, given that the IOC says its goal is to reach the last mile and have a 50-50 turnout for both men and women by then, the events are likely for mixed teams they are here to stay. Certainly Team GB is looking forward to them as an opportunity to defend the two titles they won on Saturday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism