Indian shuttler Aditya Joshi had everything he needed as he prepared to take the court for his first Youth Olympic Games (YOG) mixed doubles match on Sunday.
Water, a neatly-folded towel, and spare rackets laid strategically at the side of the court. All that was lacking was the partner he had never met before.
The 18-year-old is one of many athletes at the YOG entered in mixed team events, gunning for glory alongside a team-mate from another National Olympic Committee.
The experience was a first for Joshi, but he admitted it was also awkward at first.
He told The Straits Times: "We're from different countries and I don't know anything about Botswana."
Despite losing that match, he said it was an experience he would not encounter elsewhere.
"I play doubles in the domestic circuit in India but this is the first time I'm partnering someone from another region. I really enjoyed it."
Mixed team events, a concept unique to the YOG, was first introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when Singapore hosted the inaugural Games in 2010.
On top of allowing boys and girls to compete together in an event - in swimming's 4x100m relay, for example - athletes from different regions are also given the chance to partner each other.
Out of the 28 sports contested at this YOG, 11 - including tennis, cycling and equestrian - feature mixed team events.
Said Asian Youth Games champion Qin Jinjing of China, who is paired with Mek Narongrit of Thailand: "It gives you another platform to interact with athletes from other parts of the world. It actually also teaches you how to communicate with your partner on court."
The 17-year-old would know, since she sheepishly admits that off court, she and her Thai partner can only get by gestures and a handful of English phrases.
Guatemala's Isabel Brand, competing in the modern pentathlon, will only know who her team-mate is after the draw for team events, but has already been quietly sussing out the field.
Said the 18-year-old: "I could be drawn with anyone so I'm quite excited to find out who it will be.
"I want to perform my best, but I also want to enjoy, learn from my partner, and make a new friend. Maybe I can learn something about the culture of a place that I may never go to."
Giving young athletes the chance to gain something other than results from competition was the IOC's motivation in introducing mixed team events, said IOC member Ng Ser Miang.
"You're not competing as an NOC, a nation or a territory, but as partners coming together to bring out the best in each other," said the Singaporean, who chairs the IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020 YOG working group.
Recalling the bronze medal that Singapore archer Abdul Dayyan clinched with Turkey's Elif Begunham Unsal at the inaugural 2010 Games, Ng said mixed-team events are here to stay in the YOG.
"It creates this friendship that helps to break barriers," he said.
"You are not just obsessed with medals and results, but also friendship and respect for each other. That is something that will truly reflect Olympic values."
This article was published on Aug 19 in The Straits Times.
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