The triathlon mixed relay will make its Olympic Games debut in Tokyo in 2021 after capturing the imagination of fans and athletes alike in recent years.
The first Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships was held in the United States in 2009 and the discipline has grown in popularity ever since.
The following year the event debuted at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, before the World Championships moved to Hamburg in 2014.
Since then, the German city has hosted the annual event, and in 2016 a huge 250,000-strong crowd turned out to watch the race.
The event was announced as a new Olympic discipline back in 2017, along with several other mixed-gender events in athletics, swimming, table tennis.
A one-year wait courtesy of the global pandemic has only heightened the expectation. Here’s your guide to what to expect in Japan.
How does it work? Format and rules
Between 2003 and 2007, separate triathlons for male and female athletes were held at the World Championships, but the mixed relay format has now taken over as the predominant international event.
The mixed relay teams at the Olympics will be made up of two men and two women, with each individual completing swim, run and bike legs before tagging the next athlete.
The teams must complete the race in the following order: female-male-female-male.
The super-sprint triathlon each athlete completes will consist of a 300m swim, 6.8km bike ride and a 2km run, and will typically last around 20 minutes.
The whole race will usually be concluded in less than 90 minutes, making it a fast-paced and exciting affair.
The mixed relay will be the third and final triathlon race held at the Tokyo Games, following the conclusion of the men’s and women’s individual events.
The Odaiba Marine Park in Japan’s capital will play host to all three races and will house up to 5,500 spectators.
Who qualifies for the Olympic Triathlon mixed relay?
The mixed relay field is expected to include 17 countries, with the top seven teams in the Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification Rankings earning a place at the Games.
Hosts Japan have two places per gender reserved in the individual races, meaning they will also enter a team in the mixed relay.
A country can field a mixed relay team if it has two men and two women qualified for the individual races
This has left countries with much to consider when making team selections, as athletes suited to the longer individual event may not necessarily be suited to the shorter, power-packed relay.
The other route into the Games was through the ITU Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification event, which was held in Lisbon in May.
With the eight countries already qualified not competing, the race offered other teams the chance to secure a place at the Olympics.
It was Belgium who claimed victory in Portugal, ahead of Italy in second and Switzerland in third. All three countries earned places in the first ever mixed relay triathlon at the Games.
Who are the favourites to win the mixed relay in Tokyo?
France topped the qualification rankings and have won gold at the past three Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships, in addition to another victory in 2015.
They finished second a further three times prior to that, making them the most successful team in the competition’s short history and serious contenders for gold in Japan. They also have history of winning in Tokyo, having claimed victory at the Olympic test event in 2019.
Australia sits second in the qualification rankings and has claimed six World Championship medals since 2009, including gold in 2017.
USA is third in the rankings has been a regular on the World Championship podium, matching Australia’s tally of six medals.
Those two teams are expected to challenge for the win in Tokyo, along with Great Britain – which finished third at the World Championships in 2020.
Alistair Brownlee was part of Great Britain teams which won golds in 2011 and 2014 but won’t feature in the line-up in Tokyo after his hopes of qualifying ended with disqualification at the recent World Triathlon Series event in Leeds in June.
The youthful Alex Yee, who claimed victory in Leeds, will take the place of the two-time Olympic champion in both the individual and mixed relay races at the Olympics.
Alistair’s younger brother Jonny, who has three Mixed Relay World Championship gold medals to his name, will be part of the team, joining Yee, plus two to be selected from Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Vicky Holland.
Mixed relay analysis and picks
We have all the bases covered for you ahead of Saturday’s race.
Our guru John Levison has analysed all the leading contenders in the race for gold and settled on podium selections.
Our panel of experts meanwhile – who all picked Flora Duffy for gold in the women’s individual race – are back with more insight and picks.
When is the Olympic triathlon mixed relay?
The mixed relay starts at 0730 local time on Saturday July 31, 2021 (in the UK that is 2330 BST on Friday July 30, in the United States its 1830 ET on July 30).
For all the details on how to watch the Olympic triathlon on TV you can click here.