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ANALYSIS: Here’s How Three Top-Tier Transgender Athletes Stack Up Against Their Biological Sex

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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This year, the Olympics will feature transgender athletes for the first time. But would these professional athletes be making it to such high-level competitions if they had to compete against their biological sex, with its distinct biological advantages?

As transgenderism has risen, the Olympics have tried to open the games to these athletes. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) came out with a set of rules in 2003 that would allow a transgender athletes to compete if they had legally changed their sex with the proper entities, had “Surgical anatomical changes… including external genitalia changes and gonadectomy” and undergone “hormone therapy appropriate for the assigned sex… for a sufficient length of time to minimise gender-related advantages in sport competitions.”

However, the IOC changed their rules in January 2016 so that “transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in the Olympics and other international events without undergoing sex reassignment surgery,” according to The New York Times.

The new rules made testosterone levels in an athlete’s blood the bar that determined transgender athletes’ eligibility. Under these rules, transgender women must bring the amount of testosterone present in their blood under 10 nanomoles per liter, which is much higher than the average female testosterone level of between 0.3 and 2.4 nanomoles per liter. After the IOC, other international sporting outfits decided to also use testosterone levels to determine if a transgender athlete was eligible for international competition.

Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter from New Zealand, is preparing to head to Tokyo to compete as a female after 35 years of life as a biological male. Hubbard has captured much of the global media’s attention because of successfully qualifying for the Olympics, but other transgender athletes like Megan Youngren and Cece Telfer just missed the cut.

Hubbard was the first transgender athlete to qualify the Tokyo Olympics, and transitioned from male to female in 2013 at the age of 35 years old. Now 43 years of age, Hubbard will be competing against a field of biologically female athletes with the average age of 24 in the 87 kg+ weight division, according to National Review. Currently, Hubbard is ranked 7th in the world in this weight class, and will be ranked fourth when the competition begins on Aug. 2, Stuff reported.

In order to qualify for the Olympics, Hubbard lifted a combined 628 pounds in two lifts, according to The Washington Post. Previously, Hubbard became the first transgender woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand when Hubbard won the gold medal at the 2017 Australian International & Australian Open. Lifting in the 90 kg+ weight division, Hubbard recorded a 123 kg snatch and 145 kg clean and jerk for a total lift of 268 kg, which is about 590 pounds.

But what if Hubbard still had to compete against biological males, like Hubbard did with some success before transitioning? A profile of Hubbard from the 2018 Commonwealth Games says Hubbard weighs 130 kg, or 286 pounds. Hubbard participates in the 87 kg+ or 90 kg+ heavyweight division — the highest weight division in women’s international weightlifting.

If Hubbard were competing against men in Tokyo, Hubbard would also be in the heaviest division — the 109 kg+ men’s weight class. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, not a single weightlifter of the 19 competitors in the men’s +105 kg who completed their lifts posted less than 365 kg (about 804 pounds) total. The average total weight lifted in the snatch and clean and jerk by the 19 male lifters in this weight division who finished was over 416 kg, or about 917 pounds.

 

Youngren and Telfer were on the cusp of competing in the Olympics, but missed the cut.

Megan Youngren

Youngren is a 30-year-old marathon runner from Alaska and failed to qualify for the Olympics in March of 2020, according to OutSports. Youngren’s respectable time of 2 hours, 50 minutes and 27 seconds landed her in 230th out of the 390-member women’s field, which was about 25 minutes behind Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego who will represent the United States in the Olympic Marathon, ESPN reported. (RELATED: The Olympic Transgender Policy Just Disqualified Two Women From Competing)

Youngren was not a marathon runner prior to transitioning from male to female. While Youngren was still in college, Youngren started taking hormones in 2011 as part of the gender transition, according to ESPN. It would be another year until Youngren came out as transgender and about another eight years before her transition was complete in 2019. Youngren did not start running marathons until 2017 when she tried running a marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska, and posted a time of 4 hours and 48 minutes, ESPN noted.

Before Youngren became the first transgender athlete to participate in the U.S. Olympic trials marathon, Youngren had to qualify to compete by posting a race time under 2 hours and 45 minutes. In December, Youngren was able to finish a marathon in Sacramento, California in 2 hours and 43 minutes, according to OutSports. But, if Youngren were competing against biological men, Youngren would have had to post a marathon time about 24 minutes faster just in order to qualify for the Olympic trials marathon in Atlanta for the Tokyo games.

Only two of the male marathon runners in the 2016 Rio Olympics posted times above 2 hours and 43 minutes.

CeCe Telfer

Telfer nearly made an appearance in the U.S. Olympic trials but was disqualified because tests revealed Telfer’s testosterone levels were too high to compete in the 400 meter hurdles.

Telfer spent the first three years of college competing for the men’s track and field team at Franklin Pierce University, a NCAA Division II school. However, Telfer transitioned from male to female between junior and senior seasons, and competed on the Franklin Pierce women’s track and field team in 2019. Telfer went on to win the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships’ 400 meter hurdles, posting a time of 57.53 seconds in the finals.

While the 400 meter hurdle time that won Telfer an NCAA championship would have been competitive among biological female competitors in the U.S. Olympic trials, Telfer would have been nearly 11 seconds off the pace of the winner of the men’s 400 meter hurdle finals at the trials, and nearly seven seconds off the pace of the runner who finished last in that race.