2020 Tokyo Olympics: Men, Women Set to Swim Together in Same Race for First Time

by Amy Myers

With all the new events, sports and regulations that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics debuts, this year’s international games are trying hard to better reflect the social expectations of the world.

Throughout the different events, we’ve witnessed new rules and challenged old ones that may no longer have a place in the Olympics, such as the uniform regulation for women’s handball. And new types of athletes are finally getting their spotlight on the world stage, such as climbers, skateboarders, surfers and karatekas. COVID-19 social restrictions have even changed the way athletes across nations interact during the medal ceremony. (Although, we hope that this last amendment is only a temporary one.)

Adding to the list of new elements in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the 400-meter mixed medley race in swimming. Athletes will complete breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle and, arguably the hardest stroke, butterfly during the race. Already, that sounds like a daunting, yet exciting event to witness. The kicker? Men and women will compete side-by-side.

This is one of the only events in the summer Olympics in which men and women compete together. Other sports include equestrian competitions, sailing, motorbike competitions and some tennis and badminton events. However, this will be the first year that mixed gender competition is allowed in swimming.

2020 Tokyo Olympics Sets Rules for Mixed Medley Swimming

Trial and error is a necessary part of any social change, especially change that occurs within an official competition. So, in future years, we may see the rules for mixed medley swimming improve based on how this year’s debut competition unfolds. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though, these are the rules for athletes competing in the brand new segment of swimming.

Countries choose two men and two women to form the team for the mixed medley. The team then gets to decide who swims which stroke. For instance, one woman could swim backstroke, one man breaststroke, the other woman butterfly and the other man freestyle. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics doesn’t enforce any regulations regarding which gender can swim which strokes, but there is a bit of strategy that most teams are following.

Strictly looking at past numbers, there seems to be a stroke that is more suitable for each gender. Women tend to be faster at freestyle, while men have shorter times for breaststroke. Butterfly and backstroke vary year to year. So, as a result, many teams are trusting these trends to delegate their strokes, matching women to freestyle and men to breaststroke. While the competition for these will be fairly uniform, that leaves plenty of mystery and excitement for the remainder of the race.

And that’s the best part about the race–the anticipation. We can only hypothesize about the outcome of the mixed medley based on what we know from the genders’ separate performances. The actual outcome, no matter who wins or loses, will surely be a spectacle every nation can enjoy and celebrate.