Perri Shakes-Drayton believes mixed relays could shake up the sportPerri Shakes-Drayton believes mixed relays could shake up the sport (AFP Photo/Charly TRIBALLEAU)
Kawasaki (Japan) (AFP) - The new mixed 4x400m relay is just what athletics needs to inject more fun and excitement into competition, according to British star Perri Shakes-Drayton, although it has also thrown up some unforeseen difficulties.
The new race, with teams of two men and two women, is poised to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 as part of a drive by organisers to make the sport more inclusive.
And Shakes-Drayton, who won silver for Britain in the 4x400m World Championships on home soil in London in 2017, said the idea initially took some getting used to.
"When I saw it was listed on the programme, I thought 'mixed? A mixed relay?' It took me by surprise," the 30-year-old told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.
"But it will be interesting and fun. I think that's what the sport needs. Something different and exciting," she enthused, as the British team trained for this weekend's World Relays in Yokohama near Tokyo.
She said one of the challenges had come in passing the baton between tall male athletes and their shorter female counterparts and hinted that a man would be more likely to run the anchor leg for this reason.
When the first trials took place at the Asian Games in Jakarta, teams which ran in the order man-woman-woman-man appeared to do the best.
However, China's Yang Lei described the event at the time as "chaos" after a gridlock emerged at the final baton handover.
British 400m runner Rabah Yousif, a double Bronze-medal winner at World Championships in 2015 and 2017, told AFP the onus would still be down to the individual to run a strong leg.
"You have to perform on your leg because you can't be doing all four legs. When you do your best as an individual, it will help the team... It's still a 400m. It's just with other guys running or two girls and two guys," he said.
"I like the idea of a mixed relay because it's more fun and more excitement. You won't know the race is finished until the last leg and even on the last leg you won't know what's going to happen," as men could be chasing down women on the anchor leg.
Britain has a strong track record in the relay -- with the men's 4x100m team winning gold at the World Championships in 2017 as Jamaican legend Usain Bolt pulled up with an injury.
And Shakes-Drayton said the whole squad was looking strong as they ramp up preparations for the World Championships in Doha in September and then the Olympics in 2020.
The World Relays in Yokohama will see 790 athletes from 47 teams competing, including current world 100m sprint champion Justin Gatlin from the United States.