18 June, 2017

Mixed relays go Tokyo

In my report on the World Relays I was making clear my enthusiasm for mixed relays. They offer a great spectacle and the team strategy plays a crucial role. In case you are not convinced I urge to go back to my previous post and watch the 4x400 m relay. (By the way, when I tried just now to do this I discovered that the video had disappeared. I went back to YouTube, found a video and linked it again but I cannot be 100 % sure that it will stay. While YouTube is great there are moments like this when I hate it. Is it so difficult for Google to make sure that things stay at their place? Unless it’s a question of rights in which case I prefer not to say more, lest this post become a diatribe on the abuse of power by rights-holders).

S. Miller-Uibo and S. Gardiner at the 2017 World Relays

So the good news for the Tokyo Olympics is that the mixed 4x400 m will be part of the official program. It will definitely be an exciting race. On the other hand, given that by 2020 the various teams will have sufficient experience, I’m afraid that all of them will adopt the same strategy, making the race slightly less spectacular. In my article on World Relays I wrote that the mixed relay made its fist appearance this year. While this is true as far as senior teams are concerned, it is worth mentioning that the mixed relay made its first official appearance in the Cali, 2015, World Youth Championships. (By the way, the US youth team that won in Cali with 3:19.54 would have made the podium in Nassau this year).

The IOC has some special plans for the Tokyo Olympics. First, they are pushing for a parity between man and women, something I find eminently laudable. They are encouraging this through the introduction of more mixed events. The 4x400 m relay in athletics is one of those but there will be also a 4x100 m medley mixed relay in swimming. Mixed table tennis and triathlon relay will also be part of the program. Where I start raising objections is when they introduce team archery and judo. What is the point of these team events? I have always found team fencing absurd (and it's making a comeback in Tokyo!) and now we are going to have more of the same. And all this when the IOC is trying to limit the number of participants: there will be 285 fewer athletes in Tokyo, athletics being the major victim where the participation will be amputated by 105 persons.

I have trouble understanding the logic of the IOC. First, in a decision where money has trumped tradition, they decided to expel wrestling form the olympic program. The problem is that in the end they had to decide between wresting and modern pentathlon and since the later was invented by the famous baron (de Coubertin) and supported by another noble, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., it was wrestling that got the boot. The fact that wrestling goes back all the way to the ancient Olympics did not count (or perhaps it did in a negative way, while the moniker “modern” for a 19th century sport did confer to pentathlon a special status). Poor Socrates, he will certainly be rolling over in his grave, he who said “I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler”. The same goes for K. Palamas, the poem of whose has become the official olympic anthem, sung at every opening ceremony since 1960 and in which it is question of “running, wrestling and throwing”.

Just to sweeten the pill wrestling was accepted for Tokyo among the new sports that will make their appearance there (but this will most probably be a one-off, the swan’s song for that noble discipline). In the meantime we will have 3x3 basketball (which is adding 64 athletes to the tally), BMX freestyle in cycling as well as Madison for track cycling. The new sports are surfing, skateboard, sport climbing and karate while baseball/softball is making its comeback. Clearly I lament the evolution of modern Olympics. 

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