Last season saw the first ever Single Mixed Relay on the World Cup. The format has been tested before and we have the World Team Challenge in Germany between Christmas and New Year but this was the first time that it was an official World Cup event and worth points to the competing nations. In this article I wanted to review just how that went by exploring the purpose of the event and how successful it was.
Firstly though we need to understand exactly what the Single Mixed Relay is. Two biathletes from each country, one male and one female, form a team to take part in the relay. It is raced over a distance of 6km for the women and 7.5km for the men. It is very similar to the Mixed Relay where the biathletes each shoot in the prone and standing position before handing over to their partner. The penalty loop is shorter in this race at only 75 metres. The race is started by the women and finished by the men. The women will do 4 laps in the race and the men 5 as they must complete a whole lap after the final shoot.
So what is the purpose of this new race? It is the first new event to be added to the World Cup since the Mixed Relay was introduced in 2003. There are several different reasons why it has now been included as an event. The first is simply that it adds something new for the spectators and is a short and exciting race. The World Team Challenge has always been very entertaining to watch and now we can enjoy that excitement on the World Cup too. The second reason was, to quote IBU Race Director for the World Cup Borut Nunar, “to present one more team event where nations with only one good male and female athlete could have a strong chance for top rankings”. In other words to give some of the smaller teams a chance to get more Nation’s Cup points.
The first event was held in Nove Mesto and was won by Russia with a team of Volkov and Romanova. Second was Norway with Olsbu and L’Abee Lund and in third came the Ukraine with Dzhyma and Tyshchenko. The smaller teams had mixed fortunes. Japan did really well finishing 10th but Lithuania were 19th and Great Britain were 20th. Estonia didn’t enter a team, neither did Italy or The Netherlands.
Why was this? Well mainly because the event was scheduled on the same day as the Mixed Relay! The small teams don’t have enough biathletes to compete in both relays on the same day and in fact Nerys Jones and Kevin Kane of Great Britain and Fuyuko Suzuki of Japan were forced to compete in both events. So instead of being an event to help the smaller nations it actually became a hindrance! The teams prioritised the Mixed Relay and so couldn’t use the opportunity to gain any extra ranking points.
In the end it seemed to be more of a useful event for the top nations. It gave their biathletes that couldn’t get into the Mixed Relay team the chance to have a race and get even more ranking points for the Nation’s Cup. As we saw Russia won and Norway who were second went on to win the Mixed Relay later in the day. The problem lies in the scheduling of the event. If you can’t have it on the same day as the other relays though, when can you have it?
Well it wouldn’t be possible on the same day as the Sprint or the Individual as nearly all of the biathletes compete in these. That leaves the same day as a Pursuit or a Mass Start where just the TOP 60 or 30 biathletes take part. That would seem to be a better solution but then you have the issue of the tracks. That would mean 3 races in one day on the tracks and as we have seen in the last couple of years the venues are having difficulty providing good tracks because of the lack of snow and 3 races in a short space of time wouldn’t help the skiing conditions. Ideally the Single Mixed Relay would take place on a day with no other races but then it doesn’t last as long as the other relays and so might not be value for money for the spectators.
Overall the Single Mixed Relay serves the first purpose very well. It is new and exciting and something a bit different for fans and biathletes. The second purpose of helping countries gain more ranking points has yet to be seen. We have 2 Single Mixed Relays on the calendar this season in Oestersund and Canmore which are both scheduled on the same day as the Mixed Relays again. The strength of the big teams and scheduling problems mean that it won’t help the smaller teams much to improve their ranking. It is the same with all sports though. The bigger, richer teams will always have more money and be more successful than the smaller ones. Having said all of this we have only had one official race so far!! There is plenty of time to see just how well the event progresses over the next few seasons. We like new things in biathlon but in regards to this relay the reaction is Mixed!
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