(Photo: Michael Noble Jr/IOC Young Reporters)

Mixing Things Up in Judo

BUENOS AIRES — The Mixed Team Judo event at Buenos Aires 2018 has presented athletes with a unique opportunity to compete alongside athletes from other countries — as part of the same team.

Judo is one of many sports featuring mixed events at the Youth Olympics, an innovative part of the Games since the inaugural edition in Singapore 2010.

The Judo teams are made up of eight athletes, four men and four women, and they each compete in a different weight class. The athletes are assigned randomly and the individual medal winners are spread across different teams.

“The mixed event was cool,” 17-year-old Keagan Young of Canada said. “It’s nice to try out something new because I don’t think this is a common thing. I warmed up with some of the people on my team. I knew some of them before.”

The gold medal was won by Team Beijing, made up of athletes from Croatia, Belarus, Italy, Uzbekistan, Mexico, Venezuela and Chinese Taipei. They defeated Team Athens in the final 4–3.

Young won Canada’s first medal of the Games, picking up a bronze in the Judo Individual Men’s 81kg class. He is also the International Judo Federation’s top-ranked Under-18 Judoka after winning gold at the Cadet Pan Am Championships in July 2018.

The mixed events took place on the final day of Judo competition, and Young believes that the concept has room for improvement.

“It was also kind of weird because after you see the tournament, you kind of already know who’s going to win what fight,” he said. “But it’s cool because it’s your team and you will still cheer for them and hope you win.”

One of the hardest parts about competing in mixed events is often the language barrier between the different athletes.

The teams are made up of up to eight different nationalities. India’s Tababi Devi Thangjam said this has presented some challenges.

“Yes (there are a) lot of language problems,” she said. “(We only) had one warm-up together.’’

Thangjam, who won the silver medal in the Individual Women’s 44kg final, said she has tried to make the most of this rare opportunity.

“(You) try to interact with others and try to learn…it’s nice getting to know people from other countries,” she said.

Young agreed, but also said that Judo has one feature which made it easier to connect.

“We can still kind of communicate because Judo is kind of all in Japanese,” he said. “So we all kind of understand.”

Guiseppe Costanza, the Australian team coach, believes the athletes don’t focus so much on the mixed aspect of the event.

“Bringing the teams together is more a novelty event rather than something that’s a real gauge for anything,” he said. “The teams are named after past Olympic cities, that’s the fun bit. (But) each of these players are worrying about their own individual performance and if they end up with a medal at the end, that’s something special.”

Story by IOC Young Reporter Lachlan McKirdy