What Is Triathlon Mixed Relay? Traditional VS Mixed Relay!

Triathlon is generally a sport that individuals are drawn to as a solitary activity. The long training hours and miles logged can be the ideal way for an active introvert to spend their time. But those who are looking for more of a social activity shouldn’t completely discount triathlon. Relays can be a great way to compete within a team while still putting in the work as an individual.

Read on to learn more about what makes mixed team relay particularly unique in the sport of triathlon.

How Does the Triathlon Mixed Relay Work?

A mixed relay is a team triathlon consisting of two men and two women who all individually complete a small triathlon one after the other. This unique event is relatively new to the triathlon community. Its popularity has grown, especially since it’s been introduced as an Olympic sport.

It still may be difficult to find this relay option at your local race. Instead, you’re likely to find an option to compete in a traditional relay.

How Is a Triathlon Mixed Relay Different from A Traditional Relay?

Triathlon relays can be done in one of two ways: traditional relay (also called normal relay) and mixed relay (also called mixed-gender relay).

Traditional Relay

The first type of relay consists of having a team of two to three people with only one person on the track at a time. The first teammate completes the swim portion and tags in the person who will complete the cycling portion who then finishes and allows the runner to begin.

Some teams will send two people and they’ll compete in the sports that they are fastest at in whichever order they prefer (in other words, one person could swim while the other bikes and runs, or they could alternate who does what). A three-person team would involve one person dedicated to one portion of the race.

Typically, in a relay like this, the timing chip is located on an ankle bracelet and must be passed at the transition area. The person taking the cycling chip can already be geared up and ready to go in order to speed up the transition time. This passing of the bracelet would occur from swim to bike and from bike to run. The team members who are not immediately competing would exit the transition area and go to the finish line in order to cheer on their fellow teammates. Awards go to the fastest overall finish time. (Source)

Mixed Team Relay

The mixed team relay gets its name because it has a mix of two genders (two men and two women). Rather than having one person on the course at a time, a mixed team relay requires every athlete on the team to complete a triathlon from start to finish before they are able to tag in the next teammate.

The distances for mixed team relay are shorter than the standard Olympic triathlon distance, which can make it more fun for spectators to watch. It is not less demanding on the athletes, though. The shorter distance means it’s a maximum, sprint-level effort for the entire race. Quick and efficient transition times are especially crucial because there isn’t a lot of wiggle room.

What Is the Order of The Mixed Triathlon?

The order for a mixed team relay race is the same for a standard triathlon: swim, bike, run. This means that the athletes will still need to manage their own transition times within the race. However, the course itself is shorter than other triathlon events and is often referred to as a super-sprint. This makes the race fairly short and intense, which can ultimately make it much easier for spectators to enjoy.

The athletes competing in this mixed relay event complete a super-sprint of a 300-meter swim, 6.8-kilometer bike ride, and finish with a 2-kilometer run. For comparison, a standard Olympic distance triathlon race is a 1.5km swim, a 40km bike ride, and a 10km run. That means the super-sprint mixed relay triathlon is roughly a quarter of the distance. This requires a different training method focused on sprint power. Having a speedy transition time becomes extra important as each second carries a lot of weight in the total race.

A mixed team relay is raced in a particular order and requires four athletes to complete.

The teams are each made up of two men and two women and they complete their race in alternating order: female, male, female male.

This means the first woman would complete her own super-sprint triathlon and tag in the next man once she’s completed the run.

This is a fast-paced, eyes-on-the-prize race that allows drafting and provides a great way for spectators to watch the sport without having to commit to watching for hours

Who Can Compete in The Mixed Relay Triathlon?

In order to compete at the Olympics in the mixed team relay, each athlete also has to individually qualify for the triathlon event Many countries had to make difficult decisions with choosing which athletes would be able to be successful at both the standard Olympic triathlon and competitive in the mixed relay race (Source).

However, at the 2020 Olympics, there were some spots reserved for countries that qualify specifically as relay race teams but who aren’t also fielding individual triathlon racers. There was a Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification event held in Lisbon in which four countries were able to secure their spots at the Olympics as mixed relay teams. These teams were Portugal, Belgian, Swiss, and Italian (source).

How Long Does the Mixed Triathlon Relay Last?

A mixed relay triathlon will last around 20 minutes per racer, or around one hour and twenty minutes for the entire race. This is part of what makes it such a spectator-friendly sport. Not only is it shorter than the standard Olympic triathlon, but it’s also interesting to watch the strategy at play like who is fielded first and last.

The winning team at the 2020 Olympic games was Great Britain with a total time of 1:23:41 (that’s one hour, 23 minutes, and 41 seconds). But second place – USA – was right on their tails with a total time of 1:23:55, finishing only 14 seconds behind them. While certain athletes may pull ahead in their portion of the race, it’s ultimately up to the team to achieve the final goal.

When Did Mixed Relay Start?

Mixed team relay was first introduced by the ITU in 2009 at the World Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The goal at the time was to increase the profile of triathlon as a sport. Because the distance was shortened so significantly, it made for a much faster race, which could appeal to both athletes and spectators .

In 2010, the mixed team relay was raced at the Youth Olympics Games in Singapore (Source).

The format proceeded to make its international debut in 2014 at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Eventually, the sport made its way to the Olympics in 2020 at the Tokyo games. This race would serve as an addition to the traditional Olympic triathlon

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Things to Keep in Mind

While the current focus on mixed team relay events has been the Olympics, it’s entirely possible that this will become more common at other races. While it’s been around since 2009, the Olympics helped to put it in the spotlight. It’s also listed as a category over at the World Triathlon site so you can stay up to date on both past and upcoming races (Source).

It’s possible this format will continue to trickle down to other areas and even smaller, local races. There’s also the chance that some athletes could opt to only compete in mixed team relay events, rather than focusing on the long endurance races, which could lead to stronger teams overall.

Here is a video for more on mixed relay,


Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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