Mixed relays signals a new era

The addition of the mixed relay to the 2020 Games is an exciting addition to the Olympic program, but signifies a change in the landscape of sports.

| June 15, 2017 | NEWS

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

The recent announcement that the triathlon mixed relay has been added to the 2020 Olympic program was met with genuine optimism. And with good reason. The addition of this event falls in line with what is fast becoming a confluence of crazy at this Olympic Games. The list of sporting and modified sporting additions to the Games would make any traditionalist shake in their loafers. Triathlon mixed relay, basketball 3x3, archery mixed team event, 4x400 mixed relays in athletics, BMX freestyle park, madison in cycling, team events in fencing, mixed team event in judo, mixed doubles in table tennis and 4x100m medley mixed relay in swimming are all on the in.

The ITU, the governing body of the Olympic distance world announced: “The mixed relays is one of the most thrilling events in triathlon, with teams of two men and two women completing each a short-course triathlon (300m swim, 8km bike, 2km run) before tagging off to their teammate to take over. With its rapid and unpredictable format, athletes love it and spectators enjoy it both onsite and on television, making it one of the most spectacular formats of the circuit.” Well who wouldn’t love this? It sounds like this is ready made to compliment the fast-food, consumer friendly style of sport that seems so popular.

I mentioned the word dilution of the sport on social media this week and, to a certain extent, this is what is happening across the board in all sports. The more "digital" the world becomes, the shorter attention span we have. Mobile consumption and social media have meant that the world of sport, too, must become as agile as the fans and ahletes. Some folks questioned the use of "dilute," but it is not a knock, it’s a practice that many sports are following in order to adapt and stay relevant.

When triathlon first hit the Olympic stage in 2000, the sport had to fit into a TV-friendly two hour time period. It meant that the race and interviews could be neatly packaged and sent out. Fast forward to London in 2012 and look what we got, in the men’s race, at least, it was a two-hour snorefest. The course took in some of the sights of London, but put the audience to sleep as it unfolded. It was a step back for the sport at this level. No one in their right sporting mind would burn time viewing this.

The ship was righted in Rio with a dynamic course and a few more surprises, even though the result was predictable. The addition of the mixed relay means that, before our eyes, traditional triathlon is being eroded, diluted and formed for the broadcasters. And in a digital, Darwinistic world this had to be done to ensure survival.

So, for now, the standard-distance race hangs on for Tokyo and has found itself a more agile and TV friendly cousin cut from the same cloth as rock climbing and street ball. It is shorter, faster and will prove to be whole lot more unpredictable than the Olympic distance race, whose fate surely rests on the course design. It also gives triathlon another medal day and the hope of hanging in there at this level. If it can’t evolve then it will go the way of the sporting dinos and find relegation a real possibility. Athletes, too, will love this as an opportunity to team up for the win instead of going it alone.

Whether this is good or bad for the sport is still up for debate. Purists will hate it, for sure. But the fact of the sports world these days is that TV sells and makes the agenda. If you are slow mover you will become extinct. Triathlon might have been diluted, but it is a strategic watering down aimed at survival.