'Transwoman' Sprinter Takes Bronze At the Paris World Para Athletics Championship

Emma Campbell | July 14, 2023
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Valentina Petrillo, a biological male who "identifies" as a woman, won the bronze medal in the women’s 400-meter T12 race at the 2023 Paris World Para Athletics Championships Thursday.

Petrillo, who has been identifying as a woman since 2018, finished behind Omara Durand of Cuba and Alejandra Perez Lopez of Venezuela to take the third-place spot with a time of 58.24 seconds. Fatima Zahra El Idrissi of Morocco finished in fourth place.

Since identifying as a woman, Petrillo has set multiple records in the women’s visually impaired category, including for the 200-meter T12 (27.17 seconds) and the indoor 400-meter T13 (59.77 seconds). Petrillo began racing competitively as a child, but met obstacles after being diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative eye condition. He began running again at the age of 41, but has been competing in women’s categories since 2019.

World Para Athletics guidelines designate those who are “recognized as female in law” as eligible to compete in the women’s category, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Olympic Commission (IOC). The IOC set new guidelines in December that leave transgender participation in competitions widely open, citing “inclusion and non-discrimination.” World Para Athletics adheres to the rules of World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field and running sports, but has not adopted the group’s regulation on transgender participation. In March 2023, World Athletics determined that transgender athletes would be barred from competing against women in female World Rankings competitions.

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“We will be guided in this by the science around physical performance and male advantage which will inevitably develop over the coming years. As more evidence becomes available, we will review our position, but we believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount,” World Athletic President Sebastian Coe said at the time.

Petrillo came out as transgender to his wife in 2017, after which the couple, who have two children, chose to stay married. Petrillo began hormone therapy in 2019, and has talked about the negative physical and emotional affects the treatment has had.

“My metabolism has changed. I’m not the energetic person I was. In the first months of transition I put on 10kg, I can’t eat the way I did before, I became anaemic, my haemoglobin is low, I’m always cold, I don’t have the same physical strength, my sleep isn’t what it was, I have mood swings,” the 49-year-old runner said in a 2021 interview with BBC. Petrillo accepts the physical effects, though, asserting it is “better to be a slow happy woman than a fast unhappy man.”

Though Petrillo’s speed has slowed considerably since beginning the transitioning process, that hasn’t stopped him from medaling in multiple competitions in women’s categories. Since identifying as a woman, Petrillo has claimed nine medals in women’s races.

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