No openly male-to-female transgender athlete has ever competed on the women’s side in the Olympics, but Chelsea Wolfe is coming close.
Wolfe, 28, was named last week as a reserve for the U.S. women’s BMX Freestyle Olympic team by USA Cycling, meaning she will act as an alternate for the two female freestylers selected to compete in this summer’s Tokyo Games in Perris Benegas of Reno, Nevada, and Hannah Roberts of Buchanan, Michigan.
“She [Wolfe] will be a reserve,” said Angelina Palermo, USA Cycling spokesperson, told The Washington Times. “This means that she will travel to Tokyo and train with the team but will not compete unless a confirmed rider cannot compete.”
OutSports cheered the slot as a “historic designation,” saying that the transgender cyclist has “made history for trans athletes everywhere,” while Beth Stelzer, president of Save Women’s Sports, called it a “shame” that Wolfe had sidelined a biological female.
“It is an absolute shame that in the first year of women’s BMX in the Olympics there will be a male alternate on the women’s team,” said Ms. Stelzer in an email. “There are women who fought hard to obtain this division in the Olympics; one of those women will now have to sit on the sidelines.”
Wolfe’s selection comes with the issue of biological males who identify as female competing in women’s sports spurring debate ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games, scheduled to run July 23-August 8 in Tokyo after being postponed a year for the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, 43, is expected to become the first biological male to compete in the Olympics as a woman, having qualified under the rules for the women’s super-heavyweight division, although the team has not yet been officially announced.
Hubbard’s involvement in women’s weightlifting has met with pushback from some competitors, including Belgium’s Anna Vanbellinghen, who told Inside the Games last month that “for athletes the whole thing feels like a bad joke.”
Wolfe, who cinched the reserve spot with a fifth-place finish earlier this month at the UCI World Championships in Montpellier, France, said in a June 13 Instagram post that “I’m so excited and honored to keep working so I’m ready to shred in Tokyo in case I’m needed.”
“It’s honestly slowly processing little by little how exciting that is,” Wolfe told OutSports. “I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around how exciting it is, and how incredible it is to make it so far with this wild dream of mine that I’ve dedicated my life to for the past five years.”
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee approved guidelines for sports organizations to take into account transgender athletes, including that they declare their gender identity as female and not change it for four years, and keep their total testosterone level in serum below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months ahead of their first competition.
OutSports listed other transgender hopefuls for the 2020 Olympics or Paralympics, at least two of whom are biological women who continue to compete in women’s sports despite identifying as transgender, non-binary, or both.
For example, U.S. middle-distance runner Nikki Hiltz, a longtime women’s competitor, announced on Instagram in April, “I’m transgender. That means I don’t identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. The word I use currently to describe my gender is non-binary.”
Eight states have passed legislation in the last year requiring athletes to compete in scholastic sports based on their sex at birth, setting up a court fight over LGBTQ and sex discrimination in athletics.
The legislation only applies to biological males who seek to join female competitive sports, not biological females who want to go up against males.