Tale of Transgendered World Champion Downhiller Being Revisited

Posted By: The Ski Channel on August 20, 2009 7:05 pm

A little known fact about those ladies you see shredding the ski slopes at the Olympics: The long-time veterans have been gender tested and have been certified to be female. Yup, it’s true. A blood test and swab of the inside of the cheek confirms that the women competing at the FIS World Championships and/or Olympic Games all have the right chromosomes. (The IOC stopped mandatory gender testing just before the Sydney Olympics, but still does it on a case-by-case basis.)

Here’s why: Years ago, in 1966 to be exact, an Austrian downhiller named Erika Schinegger kicked some serious ass. In fact, she won the World Championship Downhill title. But when officials tested her gender before the 1968 Olympics, she was found to be chromosomally male (sadly unbeknownst to her) and was banned from competing as a woman ever again. (Despite having been raised as a girl, Schinegger did, however, then have sex-change surgery, change her name to Erik, marry a woman and continue to ski. Schinegger wrote an autobiography about the experience called My Victory Over Myself: The Man Who Became a Female World Champion, and opened a successful ski school in Austria.)

Recently, another woman has caught the world’s attention with her superhuman feats, and now Schinegger’s story is being revisited. Caster Semenya, a South African teenager outran the competition at the World Championships in the 800-meter event by two seconds.

Since there has been no mandatory testing, the jury is out on whether Semenya is completely a woman and officials are investigating. (The latest reports are that Semenya will undergo gender testing, and may have to have her medal stripped if she’s found to be chromosomally male, or “intersexed.”) The sad truth of it is that this poor teen was born with whatever she’s got, and is how she is. Her parents assert she’s a woman through and through, and that her gold medal should not be tainted.

Apparently, allegations (and gender testing) are now supposed to be investigated in private (unlike what happened with Schinegger). So whatever the outcome, officials have seriously messed up.