On May 1, international athletics’ highest court ruled against Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion runner from South Africa. Per their controversial decisioncon — which the court openly acknowledged as discriminatory — female athletes with higher testosterone levels must take hormone suppressants to compete in certain women’s races.
Caster Semenya is a 28-year-old South African runner who gained worldwide recognition in 2009, when she won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meters event at the World Championships. However, this event also marked the beginning of Semenya’s years-long battle against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over her naturally occurring high-testosterone levels.
Following her win, when she was just 18 years old, Semenya was subjected to a “gender verification” test, which she later called “unwarranted and invasive” in a statement. Eleven months later, she was cleared to compete, and went on to medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics two years later; four years later, she won the gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
In 2011, the Federation enacted a rule restricting the permitted level of testosterone in female athletes, which was overturned in 2015. Just last April, the IAAF ruled yet again that female athletes with high levels of testosterone must take medication to reduce their testosterone levels to compete at distances from 400 meters to a mile. (Semenya competes in the 800 meter event.) This ruling was scheduled to come into effect in November 2018, but Semenya challenged it on the basis that it was “discriminatory, unnecessary, unreliable and disproportionate.”
And May 1, 2019 after months of consideration by the court, Semenya lost her appeal.
The decision was slammed as racist and sexist, and many have pointed to the contrasting ways that men with natural athletic advantages have been treated — particularly, Michael Phelps, whose body produces an exceptionally low amount of fatigue-inducing lactic acid when compared with those of his competitors. “Michael Phelps: The man who was built to be a swimmer” reads a 2014 headline on The Telegraph; in a New York Times story from 2008, the writers waxes poetic over Phelps’s “physiological attributes that place him at the limit for his species.” And so on.
Lia (William) Thomas, a biological man, went from ranking 462nd in men’s collegiate swimming to winning the women’s National Championship after swapping to compete in female sports as a transgender athlete.
Who wins a women’s swimming competition? A woman who comes first, right? I mean isn’t it obvious? But something different happened in Atlanta on Thursday night in Atlanta when transgender swimmer Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas) from the University of Pennsylvania won the 500-yard freestyle race at the NCAA swimming championship.
Will Thomas, who only recently changed his gender to Lia Thomas, basically defeated biological female swimmers.
Lia Thomas, as she is now known, began her swimming career at the age of five. When she first started her career, though, things were different. At the time, her name was Will Thomas, and she used to compete in male swimming competitions.
She eventually decided to change her gender and transition into a female.
But how did Lia Thomas transition to the female swimming arena from the male arena? Since 2004, trans athletes are allowed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete formally.
Previously, such athletes had to legally alter their gender and get genital surgery. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) took a different tack. It allows trans women to compete on NCAA women’s teams.
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