BUDAPEST (Hungary) - An event requested by the athletes, the open water Mixed Team Relay is now officially part of the FINA World Championship programme. Taking place just outside the Hungarian capital city at Luca Beach, look for this event to be a permanent fixture at the FINA World Championships.  The format is so innovative and popular that there's talk of a place on the Olympic programme, but that's a conversation for another day. 

FINA experimented last December In Abu Dhabi with the new distance for each swimmer;  it's 1500m for each swimmer and that's the same as the longest distance event in the pool events.  In Abi Dhabi, it was the first time an open water event was paired with the 16th FINA World Swimming Championships 25m, and it passed the test.

It was Olympic Gold Medalist and FINA World Champion Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy who led his relay team to victory in the first Mixed Team Relay contest over the 6km distance. His split of 15:49.1 was the fastest of the nine teams. He swam 3.2 seconds faster than Hungary's Kristof Rasovszky who doggedly challenged him in the final lap.  The Italian swimmer praised the new relay format:  "Although open water swimming is regarded as an individual sport, we are all part of a team and it was amazing and also super fun."

Only Brazil's relay in Abu Dhabi would be anchored by a woman; the teams from Italy, Hungary, USA and Germany were anchored by male swimmers.  Three different teams featured the three Olympic medallists from the 10K Marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.  Finishing behind Italy and Hungary was Germany to confirm a European sweep of the medals podium.

At the last FINA World Championships Gwangju 2019, the open water swimming team event was called the Mixed 5K Team Relay competition and swam in Yeosu Bay.  The July 2019 race was won by the team from Germany, followed by Italy with the USA in third place.  Paltrinieri of Italy was the winner of the 1500m freestyle event at the 2016 Rio Olympics and was the key ingredient for Italian success in Korea (2019) and also in the United Arab Emirates (2021).

At the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, Korea, the mixed relay covered a distance of 5km.  The June 26th event will be a 6km with the intention of attracting pool swimmers who specialize in the 1500m event to race in open water conditions.  

The order of the swimmers is determined by each of the 22 national federations that have submitted their preliminary entry list. Since there are pool swimmers competing in the preliminary heats of the 1500m event on June 24th and also in the championships finals on June 25th, the final entries will close on the morning of the June 26th competition at Lupa Lake.

Just a few hours before the 13:00 CET race the official roster and the order of their swims will be known. Since this is a mixed-gender event, just like in the mixed relays in the pool, there is a certainty that women will be racing against men, not only in the important lead-off leg, but also in the final lap.

Also new for Budapest 2022 is the pontoon that will be used three times for relay exchanges. The swimmer in the water about to complete their 1500m leg is required to touch the pontoon on which his or her teammate is standing. Since there is no official passing of the baton, the next athlete may not leave the pontoon before the touch of the teammate in the water. Some athletes may attempt a step or two "running start" while others may simply wait until they are certain of the finish of their teammate, and also confident of their speed and strategies over the 1500m lap.

Five years ago at the 17th FINA World Championships, the open water athletes raced in Lake Balaton located more than two hours away by car. This year a brand new venue will be used for the World Championships. Lake Lupa was tested for the 2021 European Open Water Championships. Lake Lupa is only a 15min drive from Budapest, an artificial mine-lake, with 3-5m depth almost immediately at the shores. The lakeside was turned into a summer beach paradise by an entrepreneur so it has a lot of service facilities and buildings, offering very comfortable spaces for large-scale sporting events too.

What makes it unique and attractive is its water source: the lake is filled with the very same water Budapest drinks, the owners have a certificate that the water quality is 99.2% of drinking water, the missing 0.8% is the chlorine which has to be added to claim a 100% in measures before pumping the water to the pipes.