Publish date:

Wave of Mixed Team Sports Shows Growing Olympics Trend

While not a new idea, mixed-gender competitions are a big initiative at the Games.
Very Olympic Today

Very Olympic Today is SI’s daily Olympics newsletter. You can receive each issue for free in your inbox by subscribing here. To continue reading the newsletter at SI.com every day, along with the rest of our Olympics coverage, readers can subscribe to SI.com here.

It was a historic day at the Tokyo Olympics (aren’t they all?) but not just because of performances like Caeleb Dressel’s world record in the 100-meter butterfly.

Five events made their Olympic debuts. Try to see if you can spot the pattern:

The 4 x 400-meter mixed team relay (track), 4 x 100-meter medley (swim), mixed team triathlon, mixed team judo and mixed team trap shooting.

That’s five different events in which men and women competed together on the same teams for the same medals. This is not a new idea in the Olympic program (they played mixed doubles tennis at the 1900 Games in Paris, though the event disappeared from 1928 through 2008), but it’s clearly become more of an emphasis.

I’m sure plenty of people reading this newsletter tuned into the swimming in prime time and watched that relay, with Dressel swimming the anchor for a U.S. team that failed to medal. But you may not have noticed it’s part of a much larger trend. Equality between men’s and women’s sports has been a goal across the Olympics—we’ve seen several sports eliminate men’s weight classes and add women’s brackets in an effort to make those numbers more even—and adding these events appears to be a separate, though related, initiative.

I liked what I saw, and I’ll give you two reasons.

First, I like the strategy element, with countries considering different ways to build teams and order their athletes. In both the swimming and running relays, we saw teams try different orders, which led to certain teams getting out to big leads and trying to hold on. (Pat Forde has a column from the pool about the U.S.’s disaster on this front.)

Second, I just like the idea of having more opportunities to see the top athletes in action. It’s one more time we get to see Caeleb Dressel in the pool. Katie Zaferes won bronze in the women’s triathlon, and that would normally be all we get to see of her. But we got to see her in action again, trading legs of a relay with male and female teammates as the U.S. won another silver medal. Judo is a sport where you can lose a match within seconds and be knocked entirely out of the bracket. French heavyweight legend Teddy Riner (who won gold in London and Rio) lost on Friday and took home a bronze medal individually. But I turned on the France vs. Israel mixed team judo quarterfinal, and got to see him not just competing again, but actively involved in cheering on his teammates as they competed with him. (Just FYI: The team judo involves a series of individual matches. It is not a six-on-six judo battle royale. I don’t want to get your hopes up too high.) France made it to the finals, giving Riner a fifth medal in his fourth Olympics.

I imagine these events are here to stay, and we will likely only see more like them in time. I’d call that a good thing. In the era of superteams and super leagues, most people just want to see the best athletes as much as possible. The Olympics are a TV show designed to get ratings. If they already have so many of the best athletes in the world all together, they might as well give us more ways to watch them.

mixed-events-lead-tokyo

Track

Speaking of that team relay, the U.S. was disqualified for an illegal baton transfer in the morning heats. I recommend watching the video of the whole race 1) to see an example of what I wrote above, as Nigeria sends a man out for the third leg against all women and he builds a huge lead that evaporates and 2) to watch the U.S. team learn in real time that it had been DQ’d.

(Lynna Irby took it in stride like a champ, but the team was reinstated on appeal anyway.)

After the race, Sha’Carri Richardson, the sprinter who was disqualified from the Olympic team because she tested positive for marijuana after winning the 100-meters at the U.S. trials, tweeted: Missing me yet?

The tweet got mixed results.

Swimming

What’s left to say about Katie Ledecky? She won her third straight Olympic gold in the 800-meter freestyle, and here are some of my favorite stats in the aftermath.

Before the race, the TV broadcast showed that she had the top 23 times in the world in the event. Australian Ariarne Titmus won silver by swimming the fastest 800 ever by a woman other than Ledecky, a distinction previously set in 2008. As The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman put it, Ledecky set the record as a 16-year-old, Ledecky beat that mark 23 more times and Titmus is the first woman ever to beat 16-year-old Ledecky.

Ledecky now has 10 Olympic medals, seven of which are gold. Six are individual gold, which is the most by any female swimmer (behind only Michael Phelps’s 13). She is the 15th Olympian with 10 medals, and she is the third woman to win gold in the same event in three straight Olympics. And keep in mind that she would have more medals, and more golds, if the women’s 1,500-free had been an Olympic race her whole career.

She also told the world in her post-race interview that she’s not done.

Gymnastics

This is not unexpected at this point, but it is news: Simone Biles is officially out of the vault and uneven bars individual finals.

As we saw with Suni Lee’s all-around gold, Biles’s absence creates opportunities for her teammates. Here’s what Biles tweeted when it looked like MyKayla Skinner was done competing at the Olympics.

And here’s Skinner after finding out she gets to compete in the vault finals.

Beach volleyball

Group play is now over, so it’s time for a big-picture look. The headline: All four U.S. teams advanced into the knockout stage.

On the women’s side, both U.S. teams—April Ross and Alix Klineman; and Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil—went 3–0 to win their respective groups. They are on opposite sides of the bracket and would not have to meet each other until the gold-medal game.

On the men’s side, Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne went 2–1 to finish second in their group; and Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser went 2–1 but finished third. They are on the same side of the bracket and would face each other in the semifinals if they were to advance that far.

While You Were Sleeping

Rugby

The rugby is over, and I am sad. If anyone out there runs a rugby sevens fantasy league in non-Olympic years, please hit me up. Location and time of day matches are played would not be deal-breakers.

The U.S. women’s team beat China to reach the fifth place game, but fell to Australia to finish sixth. New Zealand beat France for the gold medal, and Fiji topped Great Britain to win the bronze.

Diving

I caught some of the women’s 3-meter springboard semifinals, and two divers from Team USA qualified for the finals. One is Krysta Palmer, who came in fifth. The other is Hailey Hernandez, who came in 10th. Palmer has been on the scene for a while and won a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships. But Hernandez just turned 18 in March and was supposed to be diving at the junior national championships this week in Indianapolis. Instead, she qualified for Tokyo and then made it all the way to the Olympic finals. I’m sure she and her family (and all the competitors at the junior national championships in Indianapolis!) are very happy.

Archery

Brady Ellison, the No. 2 seed in the men’s archery competition, lost his quarterfinal match against Turkey’s Mete Gazoz. That ended a disappointing Olympics for Ellison, who did not medal in individual, team or mixed team. Gazoz was seeded No. 10, but went on to win gold, so clearly he got hot at the right time. For what it’s worth, the bracket did not come close to following all chalk. Silver medalist Mauro Nespoli was No. 24 and bronze medalist Takaharu Furukawa was No. 46. Ellison beat fellow American Jacob Wukie in the round of 16 for his final win. And all credit to Gazoz, who ripped off three straight 10s in the fifth set to get past Ellison.

Archery is over, but I’ll be recommending it three years from now. It’s a sport that lends itself well to TV, with cameras zooming in on their faces as they, how shall we put this, smoosh part of the bow against their faces to steady themselves; with the slo-mo replays showing the arrows gently wobble through the air; and with the dramatic cuts to the target before those arrows arrive.

Water polo

The U.S. men lost to Hungary 11-8, dropping the team to 2-2 in group play. That makes two straight losses, though the team still has a plus-15 goal differential, thanks to a blowout win against South Africa. Four out of six teams advance out of the group into the quarterfinals, so the team’s medal hopes are still alive.

Volleyball

It was a rough night for the U.S. women’s indoor team, not just losing in straight sets to the ROC, but suffering an injury in the process. Jordan Thompson had been the team’s leading point-scorer, but landed hard on her ankle early in the second frame. It’s too early to know if/when she’ll be back.

Windsurfing

Yeah, a windsurfing update! Because I watched some at 1:30 in the morning. One thing I am always reminded of during the Olympics is that even if there is something you do not have strong feelings about, or particularly know much about, there are always people out there who care a great deal about it.

Competitive sailing is a world I have just had very little exposure to. But I always enjoy tuning into sports for at least 15 minutes just to hear what’s going on and the way they’re talked about. The commentator on this night was talking about how the style of boards they use in the Olympics has evolved over time (useful info). And he was also talking about how the windsurfing community was worried the sport would be voted out of the Olympics in 2012, but it survived (another good fact).

I guess what I’m saying is, when you listen to the top analysts in the world in a given sport, you get the best commentary:

Quick notes

Nigerian sprinter is out of the Olympics after testing positive for HGH.

Remember Sam Kendricks, the pole vaulter who tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the Olympics? USA Today’s Tom Schad has a story about Matt Ludwig, his replacement, who went from packing a bag in Ohio to competing in Tokyo in 48 hours.

Two judokas from Georgia were ejected from the Olympics for leaving the athletes’ village to go sightseeing. They had finished competing already, but given the COVID-19 numbers in Japan, it’s important for everyone to follow the rules.

Quadrathlon

It’s been a while since I updated everyone on the quadrathlon, my competition against colleague Dan Gartland, in which we drafted teams in five sports with no U.S. team in the picture. With group play over in field hockey, it’s time for an update. And the update is: I know how to pick field hockey teams.

I adopted both Australian teams. The men are 4–1. The women are 5–0. As for Gart’s teams: India went 4–1 (losing to my Kookaburras) and the Argentinian women went 3–2.

All four teams are in the knockout stage, which will make for some fun stakes in the single-elimination tournament.

All four of our handball teams (Norway’s men and Spain’s women for me; Sweden’s men and ROC’s women for him) are currently projected to make the knockout stage, but group play hasn’t concluded yet.

SI Recommends

I have a slight advantage overall, but am at a disadvantage with Argentina’s failure to get out of group play in men’s soccer. (He has Mexico.)

Here’s our Google Doc with the schedule and standings, if you want to follow along.

What to Watch

Friday night and Saturday morning, all times ET.

Medals

Golf: The final round of the men’s tournament starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The leaders tee off at 10:09 p.m.

Track and field: The Saturday night session starts at 8:10 p.m., and the only medal event is the women’s shot put. The morning session picks up at 6:10 a.m. Sunday with medals in men’s high jump, women’s triple jump and the men’s 100-meters at 8:50 a.m. Usain Bolt won the event three Games in a row, but a new Fastest Man in the World will be crowned at the Olympics for the first time since 2004.

Cycling: The women’s and men’s BMX park final starts at 9:10 p.m. Saturday

Swimming: It’s the final night of indoor swimming! Starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, all races are finals: men’s and women’s 50-meter free, men’s 1,500-meter free, women’s and men’s 4x100-meter medley

Sailing: Men’s and women’s one-person dinghy medal races start at 1:33 a.m. Sunday

Diving: The women’s 3m springboard final starts at 2:00 a.m. Sunday

Tennis: Three gold-medal matches start at 2:00 a.m. Sunday: women’s doubles gold (Czech Republic vs. Switzerland), followed by men’s singles (Germany’s Alexander Zverev vs. ROC’s Karen Khachanov) and mixed double’s gold (two ROC teams).

Gymnastics: The individual events begin at 4:00 a.m. Sunday with the men’s floor exercise, women’s vault, men’s pommel horse and women’s uneven bars.

Fencing: Men’s team foil medal matches start at 5:30 a.m. Sunday

Weightlifting: Women’s 76kg at 6:50 a.m. Sunday

Badminton: Women’s singles medal matches start at 7:30 a.m. Sunday

Team USA

Beach volleyball: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil are in the round of 16 against Canada at 8:00 p.m. Saturday. The men’s schedule won’t be finalized until after competition Saturday morning.

Wrestling: We get our first taste of Olympic wrestling at 10:00 p.m. Saturday. Two members of Team USA are in action on the first night: Ildar Hafizov and Adeline Gray.

Boxing: Duke Ragan fights Ireland’s Kurt Anthony Walker at 10:30 p.m. Saturday

Boxing: Richard Torrez Jr. fights Cuba’s Dainier Pero at 6:06 a.m.

Table tennis: The U.S. women’s team plays against Chinese Taipei at 6:30 a.m.

Equestrian: Eventing cross country team and individual starts at 6:45 p.m. Saturday

Volleyball: U.S. men vs. Argentina at 8:45 a.m.

Baseball: Team USA’s upcoming schedule depends on a game being played Saturday morning against South Korea. Check listings elsewhere when that game ends.

Caz’s Medal Picks

Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.

Cycling, Men’s BMX Freestyle Park

Gold: Logan Martin (Australia)
Silver: Rim Nakamura (Japan)
Bronze: Justin Dowell (U.S.)

Martin won the X Games in 2018 and 2019. Dowell built his own skate park in Virginia Beach and is known for his signature trick, The Twix.

Gymnastics, women’s uneven bars

Gold: Nina Derwael (Belgium)
Silver: Suni Lee (U.S.)
Bronze: Angelina Melnikova (ROC)

The inventive Derwael has debuted two versions of a Tkatchev release skill. Belgium has never won gold in Olympic gymnastics.

Diving, women’s 3-meter springboard

Gold: Han Wang (China)
Silver: Shi Tingmao (China)
Bronze: Jennifer Abel (Canada)

At 29, Abel is competing in her fourth Olympics. Chinese divers have won this event at the last eight Olympics.

Track and field, men’s high jump

Gold: Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar)
Silver: Ilya Ivanyuk (ROC)
Bronze: Maksim Nedasekau (Belarus)

Barshim won bronze in London and silver in Rio. He started out as a long jumper.

SI’s Best

• Friday’s SI Daily Cover: The medals keep piling up, but at what cost? Lauren Green’s in-depth look at the culture of USA Gymnastics.

• Avi Creditor wrote about the USWNT’s dramatic win over the Netherlands in penalty kicks to reach the women’s soccer semifinals. This game was in progress when Friday morning’s newsletter went out.

• And Michael Rosenberg on the heroics of goalie Alyssa Naeher.

• Here’s Pat Forde on USA Swimming’s struggles in the relays.

• And Forde on Caeleb Dressel’s big night, swimming three races.

As a reminder, this newsletter is free if you sign up to receive it in your inbox. You can also subscribe to SI.com for unlimited access to all the other great stories on our site.

The weekend is here, and we’re halfway through the Olympics. Hopefully I have the math on the 13-hour time zone difference figured out by now

Thanks for reading.

— Mitch