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Trailblazing trans athlete making Paralympics history reveals the real impact transitioning has had on her performance

Vic Parsons September 14, 2020
First trans Paralympic athlete says transitioning battered her performance

Valentina Petrillo after making history as the first trans athlete to compete in the Italian Paralympic women's trials on September 11, 2020. (Marco Mantovani/Getty Images)

An Italian athlete who will be the first trans Paralympian to represent her country has added her experience to the debate about trans women in sport, saying that transitioning “mercilessly” battered her performance.

Valentina Petrillo won three golds at the Paralympic qualifiers in Jesolo, Italy, last week, and will be the first trans athlete to represent her country in the Tokyo 2021 games.

Ahead of the qualifiers – at which Petrillo made history as the first trans woman to compete in an official women’s event – the sprinter spoke out about how transitioning has impacted her speed.

“I understand the doubts but I do not think I have an advantage… My performances have dropped mercilessly,” Petrillo, who is visually impaired, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Between 2016 and 2018, Petrillo won 11 national title’s in the men’s category. But she says that hormone therapy has made her about 1.5 seconds slower over 200 metres – previously her strongest discipline.

“I’ve not undergone hormone therapy… to win. I’ve done it for myself,” said the 46-year-old. “I have wanted this all my life. Finally I am in the right place, among women.”

“Competing is my life, I love the adrenaline of an official run,” she added. “For those like me who can’t see well and can’t drive, running means freedom. My legs are my car.”

Petrillo said that she hoped her story would inspire younger LGBT+ athletes.

“We all have the right to be happy,” she said. “And if I made it everyone can.”

Trans athlete debate: Anti-abortion law firm wants to ban trans students from sports.

Last week, Olympic footballer Rebecca Quinn came out as trans and said they wanted to provide representation and visibility for queer athletes.

Their announcement makes them one of the world’s most prominent trans sportspeople, and comes at a time when various sporting bodies and governments are attempting to exclude trans women from sports.

The International Olympics Committee is due to announce new rules on trans inclusion after the 2020 games, which may impact athletes who are trans.

Though the IOC is reportedly struggling to reach a consensus, World Rugby is currently proposing an outright ban on trans women playing alongside cis women, despite heavy criticism from experts including 80 academics who have jointly said there is “no scientific basis” to the plan.

International Olympic Committee guidelines published in 2015 allow trans women to compete in women’s races provided their testosterone levels remain below a set level for 12 months.

But pushback to trans inclusivity from anti-trans campaigners has been fierce, with the Evangelical anti-abortion law firm and designated anti-LGBT+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom filing lawsuits in the US aimed at barring trans athletes from joining school sports teams.

More: international olympic committee, olympics, paralympics, testosterone, trans inclusivity, trans women in sport, Valentina Petrillo

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