The battle of the sexes moves to swimming pool

With the short course World Swimming Championships due to get underway in Istanbul this week there will be a new feature which was introduced at the latest European Championships, where men and women compete together in mixed relays.

­There have been several attempts to combine men and women in sporting competitions after an increased demand by both competitors and spectators.

There are mixed doubles events at all four tennis Grand Slam tournaments, and mixed relays in biathlon have been a success since 2003. It's now hard to imagine these tournaments without them, and now it's the turn of swimming to make a splash in the battle of the sexes.

“So far, this event has only been part of European tournament. But I think it's very exciting for the spectators, so I hope it will soon be added to the World Championships,” says Russia’s swimming coach Viktor Saprikin.

Meanwhile, the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore marked the first time mixed relays were held at a major international competition, and received positive reviews.

The teams are composed of two men and two women with each swimming one of the four strokes. It's up to them to decide the order so a woman could race against a man.

“It's strange to compete against a man. But that motivates you a lot and can boost your results. And the atmosphere at such events is electric,” says Rosalia Nasretdinova, 2012 European mixed relay silver medalist.  

Mixed relays also made their debut three weeks ago at the short course European championships in France, where Russia clinched silver finishing behind the hosts.

“I was a bit nervous as this was my first major competition and I swam last in the relay so the pressure was on me. But my team-mates calmed me down, and I'm glad we took silver,” Nasretdinova notes.

Swimming is looking to grab audiences as the sport tends to slip from public notice between big tournaments, such as the Olympics, and this innovation could help raise its profile.

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