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A Record-Breaking Number of Transgender Athletes Are Olympic Hopefuls

At least eight transgender athletes will be competing for a spot in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

A Record-Breaking Number of Transgender Athletes Are Olympic Hopefuls

At least eight transgender athletes will be competing for a spot in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer. The event was initially scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to the global pandemic. The Tokyo Olympics will instead take place this summer, from July 23 to August 8, 2021. 

Until now, openly trans athletes have never competed in the Olympics, but all of that will be different in Tokyo. The transgender Olympics hopefuls come from five countries and feature previous Olympic competitors who weren’t out at the time. There will also be new talented competitors with a chance to take part in this historic event.

What Is the Controversy With Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Athletes?

Transgender people participating in competitive sports is still a controversial issue. This is especially true for athletes assigned male at birth and who have gone through male puberty. Resistance to trans women competing in women’s sports is due to physiological attributes, like height and weight. Also, performance metrics come into play like speed and strength. However, sustained testosterone suppression can reduce any competitive advantages of male body characteristics within women’s sports.

As it got closer to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, there were fears around the possible athletic advantage of transgender people. Questions came up about whether trans people should be permitted to compete according to their gender identity.

According to a study conducted by Loughborough University, it was concluded that many of the policies against transgender people competing in sports according to their gender were unfairly discriminatory, especially trans women.

They also discovered that many sporting organizations had over-interpreted the unfounded belief that testosterone causes athletic advantage in transgender people.

Since no research has directly and consistently proved that transgender people have an athletic advantage in sports, it is clear that current policies continue to discriminate against trangender people in sports. As a result, it is necessary to create and implement more inclusive transgender sporting policies. That way, transgender people can compete according to their gender identity, despite hormone levels.

Moreover, this research determined that these unfair policies negatively impact transgender people’s sports and physical activity experiences, even at a recreational level.

What Is the History of Transgender Athletes at the Olympics?

In 2003, a committee organized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical Commission created new guidelines for athletes who had undergone gender reassignment and wanted to compete in the Olympic Games. These guidelines required three conditions for participation: athletes must have undergone gender affirmation surgery, provide legal recognition of their gender, and have undergone hormone therapy (a suggested time of two years prior). 

In 2004, the IOC then permitted transgender athletes to participate in the Olympics. By 2015, the IOC changed the guidelines. They recognized that legal acknowledgment of gender could be more challenging in some countries where gender transition is illegal. Also, they determined that requiring surgery for healthy individuals could go against human rights. 

The new guidelines required that trans women athletes only needed to declare their gender and keep that assertion for four years. They also needed to show that they had a testosterone level of fewer than ten nanomoles per litre, one year before the competition and during the eligibility period. For athletes who transitioned from assigned female at birth to male could compete in the Olympics without any restrictions. The guidelines were implemented for the 2016 Rio Olympics; however, no openly transgender competitor competed. 

Transgender Athletes Vying for a Spot at the Tokyo Olympics 

Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard is a weightlifter from New Zealand. She has already qualified for the Olympics. Officially, she is the first trans athlete to be eligible for the Olympics. 

Nikki Hiltz

Track and field star Nikki Hiltz is looking to qualify for the U.S. team. She is a non-binary 1500m runner and announced she was non-binary earlier this year.

She will be competing in Eugene, Oregon, next month at the trials. Her first race a couple of weeks ago took place, and she finished 5th.  

However, Hiltz has received much hate online regarding their gender identity. They said that this negativity had been an “energy drainer on the track.”

CeCé Telfer 

CeCé Telfer won the NCAA championship in 2019 for Division II 400m hurdles and was the first openly trans woman to do so. To qualify for the Olympics, she needs to post a qualifying time and compete at the trials. Telfer was also a victim of online hate two years ago when trolls sent her transphobic messages. 


Quinn is a National Women’s Soccer League player on the Canadian Team. They will very likely be competing in the Olympics. Quinn has been on the Canadian Women’s National Team for years, winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In 2020, they came out as non-binary in a post on Instagram. Quinn competed in the 2019 World Cup before sharing their gender identity publicly.

Tiffany Abreu

Tiffany Abreu is a volleyball player hoping two make the Brazilian National Team. She is the first trans woman to participate in the Brazilian Women’s volleyball league. She joined in 2017-18, breaking the single-game record for scoring.

Chelsea Wolfe 

Chelsea Wolfe is a trans-American BMX athlete looking to qualify for the Tokyo Games. She is likely to be an alternate for the U.S. team but is hoping to make it as a competitor. Wolfe will be looking to compete in the freestyle event, a debut event at this summer’s Olympic Games.

Ness Murby 

Ness Murby is a Canadian para-athlete who is vying for a spot at the Tokyo Olympics. Murby came out as non-binary last year and specializes in the events of discus and javelin throw. They also competed in the 2016 games in Rio, placing sixth. 

Valentina Petrillo 

Italian sprinter Valentina Petrillo has qualified for the National Team. The selection committee will determine if she will represent her country. Last year at the Paralympic Trials in Jesolo, Italy, Petrillo won three gold medals.

After the Tokyo Games, the International Olympic Committee may modify its rules to allow trans athletes to compete. As a result, trans athletes may find that their Olympic careers are impacted in the future. However, the Tokyo Games will be historic for trans competitors.  

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