TOKYO — After winning a bronze medal in one of the new Olympic events at the Tokyo Games, Mexican Alejandra Valencia recalled the moment her partner nearly blew her up.
“I just said, ‘Okay, you know how to do that,'” she recalled. “And I punched him a little.”
Valencia’s partner, Luis Alvarez, misfired with the first arrow of the second set in mixed team archery. But partially buoyed by Valencia’s pep talk, Alvarez regained focus as the Mexicans beat a two-man team from Turkey and took the medal podium together.
In Tokyo, more men and women than ever are teaming up to compete in a series of mixed-gender events that make their Olympic debuts: relay races in track and field, mixed pistol and rifle competitions on the shooting range, mixed judo and mixed table tennis.
The highest-profile moments ever for mixed events took place on Saturday, the final of the 4x100m medley relay in swimming and the 4x400m relay in track and field.
When the 4×400 mixed relay was added to the Olympic schedule in 2018, it looked like a definite medal, perhaps even a gold, for the United States, which has only lost the men’s version of the Olympic relay twice since 1984. It has won its own event every year since 1996.
Even if Allyson Felix, the country’s most decorated female athlete and one of the world’s top quarter millers, chose not to compete in the event, that record turned into the confidence to go to the finals. Had it been, it could have earned Felix a world-leading 10th Olympic medal.
But if the first version of the race proved anything, it was that it became one of the most unpredictable of the Games. A massive skirmish displaced Germany and nearly wiped out Jamaica.
When Vernon Norwood took the bat from Kaylin Whitney, the United States took fourth place. Norwood spun at the rear and was in second row when he got off the far corner. Poland won the race, with Alexander Ogando of the Dominican Republic beating Norwood by one hundredth of a second to take the silver. America won the bronze medal.
In total, seven sports added mixed-gender events that proved popular with athletes and helped Olympic officials create a male appearance. more gender equalityIt’s been a thorny issue in games for decades.
“Mixed events are really important to us because I think they represent the equality of men and women on the field of play,” said Kit McConnell, sports 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.”
On Saturday, the Olympics also opened the triathlon mixed relay, in which four-person teams of two men and two women go head-to-head. Each athlete had to swim 300 meters, bike 6.8 kilometers and run 2 kilometers, and then touch a teammate’s hand to start the relay. The USA left with silver. Katie Zaferes, who won the bronze medal in the women’s individual race, became the second medalist of the Games.
“Friendship and racing as a team gives you a lot of energy and that makes it even more important,” said Zaferes. “When you compete for yourself, it’s one thing. But when other people trust you, it’s a whole different feeling.”
A few hours later, chaos ensued in the pool as the swim staged the final of the 4x100m medley. The race requires two men and two women to swim the 100-meter backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle legs in that order. But each country, regardless of gender, can decide who swims which stroke, making the race a mathematical and tactical calculation.
“I love strategy,” said Duncan Scott, who won three medals for England at the Tokyo Games.
On Saturday, the race’s unique configuration meant that women’s 100m breaststroke gold medalist Lydia Jacoby swam the second leg for the USA against men’s world record holder Britain’s Adam Peaty. Men’s 100m freestyle champion Caeleb Dressel then anchored the Americans by attempting to swim past the three women, but was far behind and slowed by the rough water churning in front of him. The USA finished fifth, three seconds behind England, whose relay team set a world record.
There is often a learning curve for those who attend new events – and apparently that includes track and field officials. On Friday, in one qualifying round of the 4x400m mixed relay, team USA was briefly disqualified for handing over the flag outside of the interchange zone between the first and second legs. After a protest, the team was reinstated when it was determined that a race official had misplaced one of the American runners, Lynna Irby.
Final Saturday. Like swimming, each team can choose when the men and women run, making the event particularly interesting for spectators who need to try to keep track of who has the tactical advantage. Each team in the final had women competing second and third, and men leading and anchoring.
According to the IOC, about 49 percent of the approximately 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo are women, a significant increase over previous Games. Yet the committee itself remains overwhelmingly male, with women only making up a third of the board.