Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gender Testing: A Chronology

A few years ago I heard about a South African runner who the powers at be were not sure was a woman. I can't say that at the time I was very interested in the matter but a lot has changed since then. Not too long ago an article was posted in my facebook group womantra about the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) new gender testing policy and I was deeply disturbed. I decided to do some research about the Olympics and gender testing and was quite surprised at the volume of information that exists and how far back this story really goes. My post is primarily a compilation of the women, men and those that lay somewhere in between and how they have been treated by the sporting fraternity. I use the word fraternity deliberately because the Olympic Committee still seems to be governed by the heterosexist structures of old boys clubs. I will let the stories (which I have collected from various sources) speak for themselves with some commentary on my part. The years provided may represent the year that the athletes represented their country at the Olympics or it may represent the year that their gender status came into question. 


Zdenka Koubkova cisfemale

Zdenka Koubkova was a runner who set Czechoslovak women's records in the broad jump, high jump, a half-dozen sprint and middle-distance runs.

She broke the women’s world record for the 800-metre dash at the Women's World Games in London in 1934.

She was forced to undergo a genital examination which was inconclusive (hermaphrodite) and she was stripped of her award and banned from Olympic competitions.

Further to her humiliation, a nude photograph of her was published in a medical book without her permission and she began living as a man thereafter, having successfully undergone gender reassignment surgery. The Czechoslovakian government officially sanctioned Zdenek's transfer to masculinity.

Zdenek Koubek cismale

United States Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage requested that a system be established to examine female athletes after observing the performance of Zdenka and javelin thrower Mary Edith Louise Weston (Mark Weston) who also underwent a sex change in the 1930s and still holds Great Britain women's shot put record.


Dora Ratjen was a German athlete who competed for Germany in the women's high jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics at Berlin, finishing fourth, but was later discovered to be male.

The conductor of a train reported to the police at the station in Magdeburg that there was "a man dressed as a woman" in the train. Ratjen was ordered out of the train and questioned by the police. He showed his genuine documents which said he was a woman, but after some hesitation, admitted to being a man and told his story. A physician was summoned and after an examination pronounced Ratjen to be male. However, the physician described the genitalia as having a "coarse scarred stripe from the tip of the penis to the rear", and stated his opinion that with this organ sexual intercourse would be impossible. This seems to describe an appearance similar to the result of a mika operation by Australian aboriginals in which the male urethra is slit open along the penis. After birth a high degree of hypospadias on a micro-penis, plus cryptorchidism, may give a midwife the impression of a vulva with a long clitoris - and the error may continue for many years, especially if the intersexual escapes expert medical examination.

In 1938 Dora is quoted as saying, "My parents brought me up as a girl [and] I therefore wore girl's clothes all my childhood. But from the age of 10 or 11 I started to realize I wasn't female, but male.

The athlete was arrested, and sent to Hohenlychen sports sanatorium for further tests and criminal proceedings continued until 10 March 1939. Dora promised the authorities he would "cease engaging in sport with immediate effect". The athlete's father, Heinrich Ratjen, initially insisted that Dora should continue to be treated as female, but on 29 March 1939 wrote to the police chief of Bremen: "Following the change of the registry office entry regarding the child's sex, I would request you change the child's first name to Heinrich."

The gold medal won by Ratjen was returned and his name expunged from the records.

This case is also controversial in connection to the Nazi agenda of racial supremacy in the Olympic Games Berlin and Heinrich is quoted as "... tearfully confess[ing] that he had been forced by the Nazis to pose as a woman for the sake of the honor and glory of Germany -  TIME Magazine 1966.


The curious case of Stella Walsh and Helen Stephens

                    Stella Walsh (R) congratulates Helen Stephens at the women's 100  metres at the 1936 Olympics. 

Walsh from Poland was beaten to first place in the 100 metres at the 1936 games by her American rival Helen Stephens. At the Games, Stephens was accused of being a man (by an unknown source) and underwent the first at-event gender test which she passed through a physical exam. Irony at its best revealed forty-four years later when Stella Walsh was killed by a stray bullet during an armed robbery in an Ohio mall and her autopsy revealed "ambiguous" sexual features including male genitalia and male and female chromosomes.

At one point, Stella Walsh was the fastest woman in the world. She won gold in 1932 and silver in 1936 for the 100m sprint. During her career, she set more than 100 national and world records and was inducted into the American Track and Field Hall of Fame. She lived her entire life as a woman, and even had a short-lived marriage to an American man.
It is very curious that her gender was not 'tested'.            

  Nickname "Stella the Fella"


Mandatory Gender Testing

At the Olympics, testing was introduced at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble. The first mandatory sex test issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF for women atheletes was in July 1950 in the month before the European Championship in Belgium. All athletes were tested in their own countries. Sex testing at the games began at the 1966 European Athletics Championships in response to suspicion that several of the best women athletes from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were actually men.

This new policy caused many top athletes to bow out of the games. They included...

Sin Kim Dan

Dan broke the women's records for the 400m and 800m in 1961/2. She was the first woman to run 400m in less than 52 seconds. Her record was not passed until 1969, and it still holds in Asia.

In 1963 in Moscow, other female sprinters refused to run against her because she looked like a man and a South Korean man claimed that she was his son who had disappeared during the war.

She was not in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as Northern Korea was not a memeber of the IAAF. Obligatory sex-testing for the international Athletics was introduced in 1966, and for whatever reason, Sin did not compete after that. 

Tamara & Irina Natanovna-Press 


Sisters Tamara and Irina Press won five track and field Olympic gold medals for the Soviet Union, and set 26 world records between them in 1960s.

Tamara excelled in shot put and discus throwing, winning gold and silver medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Irina won a gold in hurdling in Rome and a gold in the Pentathlon at Tokyo.

Their careers suddenly ended at the time that gender verification was introduced. Critics have suggested that the Presses were actually male, hermaphrodites, or taking male hormones.

Iolanda Balas

After the introduction of compulsory testing of sex Romanian high jumper Iolanda Balas refused to compete in the Olympics. She suspiciously according to Romanian track officials sustained a right tendon calcification and has never competed since. Balas won the gold medal in the Games at Rome and Tokyo and is still considered one of the best jumpers of all time.


Ewa Klobukowska

Sadly in 1967 Polish athlete Ewa Klobukowska became the first athlete to fail a chromosome test. Ewa was raised as a girl and always thought of herself as a girl and competed as a woman at the Tokyo Games, winning gold in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 100m. The following year she set a world record for the 100m.

In 1966 she submitted to the sex test at the European Championships in Budapest and passed as a woman without question. She went on to win golds in the 100m and 4x100m relay plus silver in the 200m

The following year the I.A.A.F. ordered chromosome tests for competitors at the 1967 European Cup. Ewa readily provided the cell scrapings for the test. She was then hit by a bombshell when three Russian and three Hungarian doctors gave the fatal verdict: Ewa is not a woman because she has "one chromosome too many."

The nature of her chromosomal anomaly was never disclosed but she was banned from further competition.


Heidi Krieger

It is believed that as many as 10,000 East German athletes were caught up in a state-sponsored attempt to build a race of superhuman communist sports heroes and force-fed cocktails of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. One of them was Heidi Krieger, a shot putter. When she was 16, her coach put her on steroids and contraceptive pills and she gained weight, built muscle and started to develop body hair. By 1986, aged 20, she was European champion and an Olympic shotput gold medalist. In the mid-90s, Krieger underwent gender reassignment surgery and changed her name to Andreas.

Maria Jose Martinez Patino

~ Certificate of Femininity ~

Patiño was Spain’s best female hurdler. She competed at the 1983 World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, where she passed the Barr Body test based on a buccal smear and was given a Certificate of Femininity.

In 1985, at the Kobe World University Games, she had forgotten her Certificate and was retested. This time she failed the Barr Body test. She was subjected to a complete karotype analysis which took two months to complete, and she was prevented from competing. The Spanish officials asked her to fake an injury, and she did so.

The karotype analysis showed that she was 46,XY, that she is a woman with  Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). For the January 1986 Spanish National Games, she was again told to feign an injury, but she insisted on competing, and she came first in the 60m hurdles. Her test result was revealed to the press, and she lost her medals, the running times were erased, she lost her scholarship, her fiancé and was ejected from the national team.

She was supported by Albert de la Chappelle, the Finnish geneticist, and Alison Carlson, the US coach and journalist. A Spanish professor presented the medical evidence to the Olympic Medical Commission at Seoul in 1988. She was reinstated on the grounds that her body could not use the extra testosterone, and thus she had no unfair advantage. She was given a new Certificate of Femininity that exempted her from further sex testing. However her momentum as an athlete was lost. She failed to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics by hundredths of a second.


Edinanci Silva

Born with both male and female sex organs, the Brazilian judo player had surgery in the mid-90s so that she could live and compete as a woman. According to the IOC, this made her eligible to participate in the games and she competed in Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens in 2004. In Sydney, she beat the Australian judoka Natalie Jenkins, who raised the issue of Silva's gender in a press conference, constantly referring to her as "he". Silva was obliged to give a mouth swab to officials once again to prove she was female.


Santhi Soundarajan

One of the most tragic recent cases is yet to reach a conclusion. Soundarajan, a 27-year-old Indian athlete had to endure public humiliation after she was stripped of her silver medal for the 800m at the Asian games in 2006. Soundarajan, who has lived her entire life as a woman, failed a gender test, which usually includes examinations by a gynaecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist and a genetic expert. The precise results of the test have not been made public, but it has been reported that the likely cause is a condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, where a person has the physical characteristics of a woman but whose genetic make-up includes a male chromosome. The Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley, who has undergone sex reassignment surgery, is one of a number of people who are calling for Soundarajan's medal to be reinstated. "It should never have been handled in such a gross manner, amounting to public humiliation because of their ignorance of her condition," Worley has said. "The Olympic movement has been dealing with intersex people since the 1930s. You'd think they would have got the hang of it by now." The humiliation and prospect that her career may be over has taken its toll on Soundarajan. In September, Indian newspapers reported that she has survived a suicide attempt.


Caster Semanya

South Africa’s Caster Semenya became the world champion 800-meter runner in 2009 and her win has sparked much controversy around her gender. According to reports Semenya reached an agreement with the track and field’s world governing body to keep the gold medal and prize money she won at the world championships in August.

Most notably the South African sports ministry did not say whether Semenya would be allowed to continue to compete as a woman. Their statement also did not disclose the results of sex-verification tests she had undergone. “As such, there will be no public announcement of what the panel of scientists has found,” the sports ministry said. “We urge all South Africans and other people to respect this professional, ethical and moral way of doing things.”

Her coach, Michael Seme, said in a telephone interview from Pretoria that Semenya “is going to compete as a woman and will remain a woman until she dies.”

Semenya has gone on to compete in the Olympics 2012 as a woman and received a silver medal in the 800 m race.

academic resources: Intersex and the Olympic Games
                                   Testing sex and gender in sports; reinventing, reimagining and reconstructing histories

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