After months of training, freshman Margaret Oneal Monteleone lined up for her first-ever high school track meeting, and the only one she would attend before COVID-19 hit. Little did she know, she was destined not to win, not because of a lack of training, not because of an injury, but because a male identifying as a female would compete with her, taking first place.
Republicans are using the Olympics to call attention to the issue of sex-segregated sports, giving athletes a platform to push back on radical gender ideology from their own personal experience. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., met with three female athletes to hear their stories of being forced to compete against males and their ongoing fight for women’s rights.
Margaret Oneal Monteleone
Margaret, who is a sophomore at St. Anthony School in Maui, Hawaii, said her experience competing against a male in a female track race devastated her team.
“I ended up getting second and this individual was completely ahead of everybody else and was physically stronger. All my teammates and I were super discouraged and disheartened that opportunities could be taken away from us because of this individual,” Margaret said.
She described the effects of training and working hard only to be beaten by a male competitor on the day of the race.
“When we were on the field about to win the race, all my teammates were super discouraged, and we all work so hard. I’ve practiced with them, and I know how hard they work. One was crying, they were all super anxious, you could tell everybody was really nervous,” Margaret said.
Cynthia Monteleone, Margaret’s mom, is a world champion track athlete specializing in the 400 meter. Cynthia competed against a male in the 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Málaga, Spain, and advocates for future female athletes who will have to do the same. She is now a metabolic practitioner who guides athletes on what to eat and what supplements to take so they can perform their best.
“There’s nothing my athletes could take that would match the biological advantage [males have] of 10 nanomoles of testosterone versus basically under 3 [nanomoles] of a natural female athlete. I know how hard they work,” Cynthia said. “And now, to be faced with someone who could be basically mediocre to come and take that away is just really a detriment to females and sports in the future.”
Cynthia said solely focusing on trans athletes leaves female athletes in the dust, leaving girls discouraged that they will never be able to train enough to compete with a male.
“When we pretend that only the struggle of the trans athlete matters, we’re actually discriminating against the biological females,” Cynthia said. “If you’re a young girl and you look up to an Allyson Felix, who’s the most decorated Olympian we have, and you see her best time is 48 seconds in the 400 meter, but then a high school boy or thousands of them can come and run a world record time if they identify as female in high school, then they become discouraged because then what are they looking up to? What are they striving for?”
Cynthia said one of her biggest fears as an athlete and coach is that high school girls will lose out on opportunities as there is increasing pressure for college coaches to recruit trans athletes.
“When college coaches are forced to have to start recruiting trans athletes to remain competitive, this is another problem, because then they’re going to start giving all the scholarships. It’s not exaggerative to say this is truly the end of female sports,” Cynthia said.
As a coach, Cynthia said it breaks her heart to see her students give up after realizing they often can’t physically compete with males. One of her students who had been training and preparing for a race was beaten by a male who two weeks prior decided he would compete, and was able to run faster than any of her times. Cynthia said this student didn’t want to include her performance on college applications, because she didn’t see a point since the male athlete took away her chance to compete in state championships.
Cynthia cited the so-called Lundberg study, which found that even when suppressing testosterone, males identifying as female still have a significant muscular advantage.
“Now the opposing side is saying, ‘Well, it shouldn’t be about science in this particular case, it should be about how we feel,’” Cynthia said. “But feelings don’t play sports, bodies do.”
Inga Thompson is a three-time Olympian road bicycle racer, competing in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics. She said that this year — Title IX’s 50th anniversary — has made her feel like she is back at step one in the fight for female athletes.
“When I first started, there were no sports for women. I remember being a young girl and saying, ‘Well, I want to do this and do that,’ and they said, ‘No, boys do that.’ We really had no opportunities, and you can’t really grasp that with this generation, the opportunities that the women before us have built,” Thompson said. “I just never thought that I’d be to this point where I feel like I’m back to step one of the sisters before me of trying to fight for Title IX, the simple, sex-based rights for women.”
All three athletes expressed their support for bills to protect women’s sports. Ernst said because of stories like these, she is working to pass a bill that would make it illegal for a recipient of federal funds to endorse, support, or facilitate athletic events that allow males to participate in female athletic programs.
“I firmly believe no one should be discriminated against and that everyone should be treated with dignity, respect, and privacy. We cannot ignore the biological differences in men’s and women’s athletics,” Ernst said. “To do so would threaten a woman’s physical safety and limit their opportunities for athletic success and scholarships. As a woman and a mother, I am passionate about protecting women and girls, which is why I’m working with my colleagues to pass the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act.”