Dual gender team events have been contested at world championships since 2005 – the FIS a trailblazer incorporating men and women alongside one another in competition.
With youth appeal and gender equality as priorities, the International Olympic Committee, along with international sport federations, continue to brainstorm, develop and promote gender-balanced events.
No longer viewed as a novelty, athletes are also placing greater emphasis on winning medals, some nations training specifically to prosper in these events.
“In the U.K., it’s really serious – actually our whole funding from the governing body depends on this event, so we take it very seriously,” said Great Britain’s Alex Tilley. “It’s an Olympic event and a medal thing — you go through one or two rounds and you’re almost on the podium.
“We all train it and practice out of the start gate, and with the individual event as well, I think everybody wants to be ready for that.”
The energy, enthusiasm and intensity among racers was high as Norway knocked off their Scandinavian rival Sweden, 3-1, to win its first mixed team parallel world championship title on Wednesday. Germany upset defending world champion Switzerland for the bronze medal. The fan-friendly format involves two male and two female racers representing each country per elimination round.
“It has been a long time since I’ve done the team event, so I’m super happy to race this” said Swedish silver medalist Sara Hector. “It feels a little bit different to be with the guys – it’s not so often, so it was fun to be with the team.”
However, considering the Cortina world championships jam-packed race schedule and lack of rest days after three days of postponements due to uncooperative weather, stars like Mikaela Shiffrin and Alexis Pinturault, tend to sit these events out.
Austrian Katherina Liensberger – fresh off her success of a gold medal winning tie with Italian Marta Bassino in Tuesday’s parallel event – once again took to the Rumerlo race hill, this time to compete alongside the guys.
“There’s a good team spirit and you really have to push each other,” Liensberger said. “You ski for yourself, but also together for the Austrian Ski Team and the whole nation. You have a little bit more responsibility at the start gate and that’s what makes this event so cool.”
Team USA was eliminated by the eventual champions, Norway, in the quarterfinal round. U.S. skier River Radamus says he “loves this event.”
“As an athlete, being able to compete head-on-head with the person next to you really raises your game and brings my intensity out,” Radamus said. “As a spectator, I feel like it can be exciting because if you don’t know a lot about the sport, you see two people going at each other and you can see what’s fast a little easier.
“It’s a cool dynamic and you’re accountable to your team,” Radamus said.
However, the Cortina mixed team event didn’t come up all roses on Wednesday. Italian Lara Della Mea – the home nation’s first racer down the course – caught an edge, got spun around and tumbled backwards, smacking the ground. She was taken off the hill by sled, learning shortly thereafter that she suffered a left ACL tear. The Italians failed to get past Germany in the second round.
There was also confusion in the men’s final between Norway and Sweden. Norwegian Sebastian Foss-Solevaag bailed on his run, claiming to be interfered with by opponent Kristoffer Jakobsen. After a delay and review, a re-run was granted.
“They’ll continue to tweak things and figure things out to get it to run the best,” Radamus said.
Ski racing’s mixed team event will be one of eight dual gender events on the Beijing 2022 Olympic program, alongside similar format in luge, curling, figure skating, short track speed skating, ski jumping, freestyle aerial skiing and snowboard cross.
Swiss skiers will aim to defend their Olympic gold medal in the event, which made its Olympic debut at PyeongChang 2018 Games.
With smiles abound in Cortina’s sun-drenched finish area, guys and girls sharing a fun and competitive experience together, and race directors pleased with the outcome, it’s evident that the mixed gender team event is here to stay.
Follow Brian on Twitter – @brian_pinelli