Track Coach

TC229 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS

Interesting Times

One of the charges of moving into administrative work is that you attend meetings. I have rarely attended a meeting that could not have been run in half the time or should have accomplished twice as much. It’s a chance to sit and talk with people usually minimally prepared to talk about things they don’t understand. My most memorable experience was the time a colleague made two “pertinent” remarks before he realized he was in the wrong meeting! Let the minutes reflect that.

It had to be December of 2004, the Sport Sciences Committee meeting at the USATF Convention when the late David Martin got up to present the work he co-authored called, Far from the Finish Line: Transsexualism and Athletic Competition.

As David Martin forged ahead all I can remember thinking was, “Is this really a problem?” Maybe “problem” is the wrong word, then or now, but that’s what I thought. There were more than a few titters as Martin gracefully worked through the topics of gender and sex, intersexed individuals, sex testing and some case studies. One needs to remember through the 80’s and 90’s this was such a fringe subject that any discussion seemed to court the unbelievable.

The classic example, seemingly the only example at the time was Dr. Rene Richards and her attempts to gain entry into women’s tennis after sexual re-assignment surgery. There was lots of drama that included politics, discussion of “an unfair advantage” and basic human rights. And the resolution, if I can use that word, left many people wanting.

I grew up with an understanding that sex was a binary situation, meaning two options. You were a man or you were a woman, either or. But today (2019) the idea is being floated, even accepted by many, that sex is actually on a continuum, a spectrum, similar to autism. One source noted as many as 36 variations. That is certainly not the way it was presented in 9th grade.

Our sport has a checkered history with female impersonators who have triumphed at the Olympic level adding fuel to this fire. In fact, any time a female has a breakthrough performance the femininity question seems to arise. You would think this could be solved by basic science. You would think.

Part of the problem is that the people who make the determinations here sometimes get it wrong. Politics, racial bias, nationalism, statistical manipulation and even ignorance influence decision making that is ostensively made “in the name of science.” In the late 60’s there was a Polish sprinter Ewa Klobukowska, whose career was ruined after her chromosomal make-up was deemed that of a male by the day’s “scientific methods.” Stripped of her records and titles, humiliated at home and yet somehow, she managed to conceive and bear a healthy child less than two years later. Fake science?

One needs to accept that, in part, these decisions are being made by former athletes who could run, jump and throw well but whose “scientific method” is in a word, basic. The other half of this equation are political operatives along for the junket with all the resolve of a white flag and the political fortitude to vote with the majority.

In total this group is not chock full of Nobel Laureates but rather a group with feet of clay, like you and me, whose understanding of anatomy and physiology is stymied by the differences between the sigmoid and the semi-colon.

We live in interesting times. I truly believe the sentiment that one is born to meet the challenges one faces. But I have to wonder when I hear the toast that ends with “…may you live in interesting times” if it is being given “tongue-in-cheek.” And then I wonder to myself was it meant to be a blessing or a curse?

I draw your attention to Kevin McGill’s piece on javelinist Steven Seymour. All but forgotten Seymour was an Olympic medalist and American record holder. McGill delves into Seymour’s innovative training methods as Seymour struggled to master the aerodynamic changes of the javelin in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. With six months, thousands of miles of travel and countless hours of work, McGill has produced a fascinating piece on some forgotten track and field history.