Mixed-gender events a sign of innovation at the Youth Olympic Games

Mixed-gender events have featured since the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. Some have subsequently been introduced to the Olympic programme, underlining the YOG as a pioneering place of innovation, and Buenos Aires 2018 will be no different.

Picture by IOC/Ubald Rutar

While men and women compete separately in some combined team events, in several others they go head-to-head in direct competition. Mixed events are an exciting spectacle and often unpredictable, thrilling to the end for both the competitors and fans.

Making a splash

Swimming has included mixed-gender events in both previous editions of the Youth Olympic Games, and Singapore 2010 was the first official appearance of mixed relays on a world stage. Swimming world governing body FINA approved mixed-gender relays in 2013, and they will make their Olympic debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where a mixed 4x100m medley relay will be contested.

Singapore 2010 featured the 4x100m freestyle and the 4x100m medley relays, both won by China – a result repeated four years later in Nanjing – and the same two races are on the programme at Buenos Aires 2018. A relay quartet comprises two men and two women, and the teams can determine in what order the athletes compete, with the medley relay comprising all four strokes, starting with backstroke before breaststroke and butterfly, with freestyle the anchor leg.  

Emma McKeon competed in Singapore in 2010, and the event was a huge stepping stone for the Australian, who won four medals, including gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, at Rio 2016. In Singapore the then 16-year-old won five medals, including silver in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, alongside fellow 2016 Olympian Madi Wilson and world and Commonwealth medallist Kenneth To, as well as bronze in the mixed 4x100m medley relay. It was McKeon’s introduction to mixed-gender racing.

“It was fun, it was a whole different experience. It was a new thing for me. It is definitely good for the spectators, because watching it you don’t actually know who is winning at each turn so it is an exciting event to watch. To race in it takes a bit of getting used to, because I raced it last year at the World Championships and on either side of me were the men who were first and third in the 100 fly, so coping with those waves when you do butterfly is really hard. But it’s just fun.”

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McKeon comes from a swimming family, with father Ron a two-time Olympian and brother David a former world relay medallist, while uncle Rob Woodhouse won bronze in the 400m individual medley at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984. She credits competing in Singapore with being instrumental in her career.

“I loved the Youth Olympics. It just made me excited for the rest of my swimming career, because before that I was kind of just swimming and enjoying it and as I got older I could use my experience there to motivate me to keep going even more.”

Innovation meets history in modern pentathlon

The modern pentathlon mixed relay featured successfully at Singapore 2010 and Nanjing 2014, and will take place at the Youth Olympic Centre in Buenos Aires.

There will be 24 teams, comprising two athletes, one man and one woman, which will be decided by a draw following the conclusion of the individual competitions, with the gold medal-winning athlete teamed with the final female finisher, with different nations paired together.

The relay consists of a fencing ranking round, swimming 100m freestyle, a fencing bonus round and the laser-run, where the athletes run 1500m and shoot using a laser pistol.

Jumping to it

In equestrian disciplines men and women will compete on equal terms in both the individual and team events, with 30 athletes participating at Buenos Aires 2018. Each athlete is assigned a horse at random following a draw, meaning the athlete will have to form a partnership with an unknown horse.

Each athlete/horse combination complete a course with 12 obstacles, some of which may be double or treble combinations, with penalties incurred for faults such as knocking down an obstacle, refusals and exceeding the allotted time.

The objective is to jump the course within the time allowed without making a mistake, a clear round. Six teams will compete in the international event, each representing a different continent, and will consist of a maximum of five and a minimum of three athlete/horse combinations. Any tie for team or individual medals will be decided by a jump-off.

Different strokes on the golf course

Golf made its Olympic return four years ago at the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014 for the first time since 1900 and 1904. That was a forerunner to its reappearance at Rio 2016.

The mixed teams are made up of one man and one woman from the same NOC, and the event is played over 54 holes – three rounds of 18 – over three consecutive days. The first round will be as a foursome where pairs of players play as partners and each pair plays a single ball taking alternating strokes.

The second round will take the form of a four-ball where the pair again play as partners, but this time with their own ball. The lower score of the two is the score for the hole, so there is no penalty if one partner fails to complete a hole. A seeded draw is applied for the final round, with the leaders teeing off last, with both individual scores counting.

The final score is calculated by adding the first and second rounds as well as the individual scores by the men and women in the final round, and the team that plays the three rounds in the fewest number of strokes is the winner.

Mixed pairs at the double

In tennis all players compete in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles. For the doubles events they can be paired up with someone from a different NOC if there is no-one from their own country.

In the mixed doubles, eight teams are seeded, with the remaining 24 pairs drawn. Each match is the best of three sets, with the third set played as a tie-break to 10 points.

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The losing team of each match is eliminated, except for the semi-finals where the losing teams progress to a bronze-medal match and the winning teams to the final.

Mixed pairs eye medal table

In table tennis the mixed doubles has been part of the programme at both previous editions of the YOG, with China sweeping the gold medals in front of a home crowd at Nanjing 2014.

In Buenos Aires there will be mixed international teams, with each team match consisting of three elements. The first match is a women’s singles clash, with the second a match between the men and after a five-minute break, a mixed doubles match will take place.

All matches are the best of five games which are played to 11 points, with at least a two-point difference.

Sail away

The Nacra 15 makes its appearance for the first time on the Youth Olympic Games programme. The Nacra 15 are the stepping stone towards the Nacra 17s, which made its appearance successfully at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and will feature also in Tokyo 2020. The Nacra 15s, which contains a man and a woman competing together, race in fleets of supplied, equally-matched boats with a mass start.

They then race each other around the course of marker buoys to incorporate upwind, downwind and reaching – when the wind is coming from the side of the boat.

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The Race Committee will stipulate whether they will race one, two or three laps dependent on wind conditions and the length of the course. The scoring system is called ‘low point’, which means the winner of each race is awarded one point, second is awarded two and so forth on a rising scale, and the team with the lowest score is the overall winner.


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