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Much like mixed team relay made its exciting Olympic debut in Tokyo, so too has a new event now launched with a debut test race Friday afternoon at the Americas Triathlon Cup: The brand new paratriathlon mixed relay.
“USAT is creating the concept and we’re testing it in 2022,” said Amanda Duke Boulet, director of USA Triathlon’s Paralympic program. The goal is to work out the kinks and get added to the Olympic program in Los Angeles in six years. Boulet emphasized the test event was an exhibition and “our best guess first start,” which built on similar concepts in Italy and France, meaning things will be adjusted now based on what they’ve learned.
So how did it work?
Just like in the mixed team relay you’ve seen before, this new event features two men and two women, who each complete their own mini-super-sprint triathlon before handing off to their next teammate. Each mini-triathlon is about 20-minutes long, meant to keep the action fast and exciting. But in order to have all the paratriathlon classifications race together, some adjustments had to be made from the existing mixed relay format.
RELATED: What is Mixed Triathlon Team Relay?
In paratriathlon, athletes are placed into categories—from PTWC1 wheelchair athletes to PTVI visually impaired athletes, along with PTS2 up to PTS5, based on the severity of impairment. They then, typically, race solely against other athletes in their classification. In the relay, though, in order to have wheelchair athletes compete alongside PTS5 amputees and blind triathletes, a working group had to craft a concept and iron out the kinks.
As rules were created, the key goals were to ensure that every team had athletes from different categories, that as many countries as possible were able to compete, and that gender equity was achieved.
Those main rules, according to Boulet:
- Every category, subcategory, and gender has been assigned a points value. An athlete from a category with the fastest average times is worth the most points and those from slowest categories are worth the least amount of points (PTVI5 men = 5 points, PTS2 women = 1 point). Each team can’t exceed 14 points total with their four athletes.
- Hand-offs are done virtually, via flags waved by referees, because of the in-water starts necessary in paratriathlon. In the Paralympics, those flags will be each country’s flag.
- The order of athletes on each team must go from the most impaired to least impaired athletes for safety considerations.
With athletes already coming to Sarasota, Florida for the Americas Triathlon Cup paratriathlon race on Sunday, USAT asked them to help test out the mixed relay format Friday afternoon. There were ultimately four American teams and one Canadian team. And many of the athletes, including most of the U.S. Tokyo Paralympians, were more excited for the test event than for their “real” race—even though Boulet told them that results wouldn’t be posted and timing would only be taken for data collection purposes, not for competition. But, of course, everyone wanted to win this historic race.
“It was fun to be involved in the first ever paratri mixed relay in hopes of it becoming a medal event,” said Melissa Stockwell, a three-time Paralympian. “I can’t wait for more opportunities to refine the process and continue the team camaraderie that it brings.”
Eventually, there’ll be another one or two test events in the U.S. later this year with a few small changes, then USAT hopes to hand it off to World Triathlon to become part of the official World Triathlon program in 2023. By 2024, the goal is to have a world championship race—necessary to show a viable field for the Olympics in 2028. And, fingers crossed, paratriathlon mixed relay will join triathlon mixed relay in Los Angeles.
World Triathlon spokesperson Olalla Cernuda said that may be tough, even though they would all love to see it in the Games, since the application period for events is open right now for LA 2028.
“World Triathlon is open to the idea of what might work, keeping in mind it needs to be something that is sustainable and manageable within the existing context of para triathlon races and event organizers’ capacities,” she said.
“We know it’s not perfect, we’ll be making some adjustments and tweaks,” Boulet said. But, still, it was a first-of-its-kind, not-too-shabby start.
Check out the photos from the test race: