A reader writes:
Of COURSE body are acceptable and what constitute unfair advantage? So butch women with high androgen levels may be better athletes … so what? Tall women make better basketball players! Why is one okay and the other a problem to be scrutinized and corrected?
The Caster Semenya example is a telling one. On the one hand, the IOC is fiendishly against doping, but on the other, you have to use hormonal intervention in order to compete? What kind of logic is that?
And in a celebration of the pinnacle of human athletic achievement, as the Olympics are supposed to be, why would be encourage an athlete to modify herself in order to be LESS successful than she naturally is? It breaks my heart to see those lowered times for Semenya. Women come in all shapes, sizes, and hormone levels. Who died and made the IOC the gender police?
True – these natural hormone levels in women might make them faster, stronger, more athletic. But I bet the men also have a natural hormone advantage when you get to that level of elite competition. Some people are just born with the right stuff to make them natural athletes. Ultimately the rules need to just be whether you have an XX or XY chromosome pair. The rest is just luck. The more the IOC regulates "natural" biomarkers, the more sterile these events become.
Another reader recommends this piece by Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis. Money quote:
[A]verage testosterone levels are markedly different for men and women. But levels vary widely depending on time of day, time of life, social status and — crucially — one’s history of athletic training. Moreover, cellular responses range so widely that testosterone level alone is meaningless. Testosterone is not the master molecule of athleticism. One glaring clue is that women whose tissues do not respond to testosterone at all are actually overrepresented among elite athletes.
Alice Dreger pushes back against this reasoning, arguing that the IOC policy is actually fairly nuanced, in that it focuses on those with "functional androgens" – meaning women whose cells actually respond to androgen. But, in a paper by Jordan-Young and Karkazis, the authors point out that athletes are not penalized for other rare biological phenomena, such as mitochondrial quirks that dramatically increase aerobic capacity or a hormone condition that causes extremely large hands and feet. This point calls to mind Michael Phelps' rare genetic disorder that gives him unusually long limbs and hypermobile joints.
(Photo: Michael Phelps swims to a first place finish in Heat 12 of the men's 200m Individual Medley on Day Five of the 2012 US Olympic Team Trials on June 29, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. By Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)