Olympic Triathlon Mixed Relay: what it is, how it works and just who is going to win in Tokyo 2020?

Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming Triathlon Mixed Relay at the Olympics

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Ever since World Triathlon announced that the mixed relay format would debut at the 2020 Olympic Games, excitement has been brewing. As one of the most thrilling sporting spectacles, it also presents another opportunity for countries, and its individuals, to medal. For Team GB, for example, another podium placing would mean medal number three, following Alex Yee’s and Georgia Taylor-Brown’s fantastic silver-winning performances earlier in the week.  

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So how does the Mixed Relay Triathlon work?

Teams of two men and two women each complete a short-course triathlon (300m swim (one lap), 6.8km bike (two laps), 2km run (two laps)) before tagging off to their teammate to take over. With its rapid and unpredictable format, it’s a winner for athletes, spectators and viewers alike.

When is the Olympic Mixed Relay Triathlon happening?

The Mixed Relay starts at 11:30pm BST this coming Friday , 30 July (6:30am local time, Saturday 31 July). Viewers in the UK can watch it live on the BBC.

Who’s taking part in the Mixed Relay Triathlon?

Not all countries will compete in the Mixed Relays. Olympic champions Flora Duffy and Kristian Blummenfelt, for example, can’t take part as, in Duffy’s case, she’s the only qualified athlete for her country, Bermuda. Norway, on the other hand, qualified three men but only one woman.

In total, 17 teams will compete, including all the traditionally ‘strong’ triathlon nations – Great Britain, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Spain. (South Africa have had to to withdraw after Rio bronze medallist Henri Schoeman suffered a stress fracture in his foot on Monday.) The squads are officially submitted at Thursday’s briefing and the final line-ups confirmed two hours before the start of the race. Athlete selection will be based on how well they’ve recovered since their individual events. Team GB, for example, have three strong women to choose from – Tokyo silver medallist, Georgia Taylor-Brown; the fastest female swimmer at the Games, Jess Learmonth; and Rio bronze medallist, Vicky Holland.

Who’s favourite to win the Mixed Relay Triathlon?

Whether it’s the development programme that churns out athletes by the dozen or the proving ground of their longstanding Grand Prix series, for a favourite for Tokyo’s mixed team relay, look no further than France.

What makes a successful relay team? 1. Not having a weakness in any of the four legs. 2. Having a fast runner on the anchor. The French tick both boxes. Whether Dorian Coninx or Leo Bergere ends up racing with Leonie Periault and Cassandre Beaugrand, there’s little doubt it’ll be two-time and reigning world champion Vincent Luis on the final leg. He finished a disappointing 13th on Monday, but over the short, sharp course should have plenty left in the tank for a shot at redemption. 

France have won the last three mixed relay world titles, but they won’t have it all their own way on 31 July. Great Britain also look formidable, especially now with four Olympic medallists to choose from. And the last time we fielded four individual medallists was at the 2014 Commonwealth Games… and we won gold.

Taylor-Brown, Learmonth, Yee and Gordon Benson narrowly missed out on gold to France (Vincent Luis didn’t race) at the Tokyo test event in 2019; while the same team, minus Benson but plus Barclay Izzard, won bronze behind the USA (silver) and France (and again no Luis) at the 2020 World Championships in Hamburg. Throw in two-time Olympic medallist Jonny Brownlee (who was in all three of GB’s world title-winning teams in 2011, 2012 and 2014) on the second leg, and Luis on the final leg against Yee, and we could well see a repeat of the test event for a photo-finish decider.

Current world champs silver medallists, the USA, could have three of that quartet lining up in Tokyo. Two from Tokyo bronze medallist Katie Zaferes, Summer Rappaport or Taylor Knibb will join Kevin McDowell – picked specifically ahead of Matt McElroy for the relay – and Morgan Pearson.

The above three nations have won six of the past seven team mixed relay world titles, with only Australia breaking the stranglehold in 2017. And if the 2108 Commonwealth Games winners are still in contention by the time Jake Birtwhistle takes over for the final leg, they’ll be a threat for gold. The Aussies are traditionally strong at the relay having been on the world championship podium five straight years from 2015, and former track runner Birtwhistle is one of the few men to have beaten Luis in a sprint finish, in Hamburg in 2019. Australia also have the advantage of being the only nation to qualify three men and three women for the Games, so have maximum options for selection.

Behind the favourites, the self-styled Belgium Hammers, who won the final qualification event in Lisbon, are fortified by the men’s pairing of fourth-place Tokyo Games finisher Marten van Riel and Jelle Geens (who missed the individual race due to a positive Covid test, but is now cleared to race the Relays). With Maya Kingma and fourth-place finisher on Tuesday Rachel Klamer, the Netherlands look strong on the women’s side, plus there’s 2018 Commonwealth bronze medallists New Zealand, who now also boast an Olympic bronze medallist in Hayden Wilde, and 2019 world runners-up Germany with Jonas Schomburg, Justus Nieschlag and Laura Lindemann.

Switzerland, Denmark and Italy will also fancy their chances of an upset, with many of their athletes prioritising the relay over the individual event. Much can happen in the throes of a mixed relay, but one thing is certain, this one will be more competitive than ever before.

Image credit: © ITU Media / Tommy Zaferes

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