With the Olympics at hand, we are excitedly shifting our focus to unite in cheering for America’s best athletes. The reason why we love sporting events is because they are fairly matched and we want to celebrate who has worked the hardest and had the most determination win. Well, not this Olympics. This Olympics we see a biological male who trained for powerlifting as a male for most of his life, transitioning at age 35, now competing for a medal in the women’s field. It’s patently unfair. I know firsthand how unfair it is—so does my daughter.
I have always been proud to be part of the legacy of fellow Hawaiian Patsy Mink, a Democrat who became the first female Asian-American to serve in Congress and was a leader in establishing Title IX in 1972. Title IX was pivotal to ensuring that female athletes have the same opportunities to compete and succeed in sports as male athletes have. That allowed me to run in college on scholarship, a hope that my daughter now holds as well.
In 2018 at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Málaga, Spain, I raced against a biological male who identified as female. When I raised questions to USA Track and Field administrators about the fairness of a biological male competing in the women’s category, I was told that for “my own safety,” I should keep my mouth shut. But I would not be silenced.
One critic accused me of speaking up only because I’m a “sore loser.” But I didn’t lose my race. I beat Yanelle Del Mar Zape, my transgender competitor from Colombia, by a few tenths of a second. This is not a personal vendetta for me.
I may have edged out a win that day, but six months later at the 2019 World Championship indoor meet in Torun, Poland, my teammate lost a medal to the same individual. And she is not alone in losing out on victory because of an unlevel playing field. This is happening to countless female athletes around the world, including my own daughter.
Last year, my 16-year-old daughter, a sophomore at St. Anthony School in Maui, Hawaii, placed second to a biological male competing as a female. It was my daughter’s first and only track race of the season before COVID-19 hit. Had it not been for this athlete, she would have placed first in her heat.
As a mom, I speak up for my daughter. As an athlete, I speak up for my fellow teammates. As a coach, I speak up for my girls who I tell, “hard work pays off.” But how can I continue to teach this when average boys can change their identity, join the female competition at any moment, and breeze by the top female athlete in their race? I can’t. Lining up against a male, the female athletes I coach are already defeated, knowing their opponent has years of muscle and bone growth that no amount of hormones can reverse.
Science now confirms that, even after hormone treatment and reassignment surgery, males identifying as females still hold an athletic advantage over biological women. There is no magical wand that changes these advantages, which begin in the womb: boys have smaller hip structure, larger hearts, and more muscle and bone mass. As a masters track athlete competing at the age of 45, the aging process matters, too. As we age, the physical differences between people born male and female become more pronounced: the male heart grows larger, as the female heart shrinks.
I have compassion for everyone involved. I have stood before a race, wishing that transgender athletes could compete fairly without taking a spot from a female who deserves to be there. But one biological female displaced is one female too many. Even in small, seemingly unimportant races, defeat for young girls can be devastating. I know this because it has happened to my daughter. I know this because it has happened to the girls I coach. At the end of the race, they turn to me and say, “Coach, what’s the point?”
A solution doesn’t have to mean banning transgender athletes from competing in sports. We can find other solutions and opportunities. But girls and women shouldn’t be effectively pushed out of the race for their own scholarships, spots on the podium, or winning first place in their own small-town race.
Cynthia Monteleone is a world champion sprinter, a metabolic practitioner, and author of the book, Fast Over 40: A Memoir and Training Guide.
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