BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will be traveling to the Tokyo Games as an alternate, and in doing so, will become the first transgender Olympian on Team USA.
Wolfe qualified for the position by earning a fifth-place finish at the World Championships, but will only get a chance to compete in the Olympics if either qualifying rider Hannah Roberts or Perris Benegas drop out.
In an Instagram post, Wolfe reacted to her historic accomplishment.
‘It’s taking a bit to fully register that after so many years of work we finally have the @teamusa bmx freestyle squad for the @olympics, and that after so much work and overcoming so many obstacles that I’ve qualified to represent the United States as the alternate rider,’she wrote.
‘I am positively a different person than when I set off on this journey and I’m so grateful for every experience along the way and I’m so excited and honored to keep working so I’m ready to shred in Tokyo in case I’m needed.’
BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will be traveling to the Tokyo Games as an alternate, and in doing so, will become the first transgender Olympian on Team USA. (Right) Wolfe competes in the UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup on day three of the FISE Hiroshima at former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium on April 21, 2019 in Hiroshima, Japan
Born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, Wolfe began racing competitively when she was just 6, spending her evenings riding around her local skate park.
When she turned 15, she traded in her regular bicycle for a trick bike and started riding freestyle. For many years, she competed with male athletes, hiding her identity as a trans woman.
‘I had this fear that if anyone knew that I existed, even some of my idols … I was scared that they would reject my existence,’ Wolfe, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
When she came out in 2014, Wolfe said most of her fellow riders welcomed her, though some tried to undermine her, viewing her biological sex as an unfair advantage.
‘I have to laugh about that,’ she said. ‘What’s annoying about it is that no matter how hard you work as a trans athlete, people are still going to say, ‘Oh, you have your accomplishments because you’re trans’.’
The inclusion of trans athletes in elite women’s sport has become the subject of huge controversy, with critics arguing that being born male provides a physical advantage even after transition.
Justice Department lawyers urged a West Virginia judge to invalidate a state law banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports in middle and high schools and colleges, in a legal brief known as a ‘statement of interest.’
‘As a kid like any other I dreamed of one day becoming a professional athlete in my sport,’ Wolfe wrote on Instagram earlier this week. ‘But as a young trans girl I feared that I would never be welcome as one of them. That a girl like me could never be a professional athlete.’
Wolfe continued, saying she was ‘was faced with the realization that the person who I needed to see when I was younger didn’t exist yet because I was yet to become her.’
Officially, male-to-female trans athletes have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2016 if their testosterone levels remain low enough for a year, under IOC guidelines.
Asked about the policy, the IOC told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was up to international sports federations to decide eligibility rules for specific sports and events.
Requirements issued this month by the UCI, the world governing body for cycling, require transgender women to keep their testosterone levels below a certain level for 12 months and sign a declaration that their gender identity is female.
Transgender athletes are not required to gain legal recognition of their gender identity nor undergo anatomical surgery to be eligible to compete.
But many leading sportswomen have condemned their inclusion, arguing that they have greater muscle mass, bone strength and lung capacity.
Other contenders to be the first trans Olympian include the New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, whose gold-medal-winning performance at last year’s Pacific Games ignited fierce debate over the issue.
US marathon runner Megan Youngren and Brazilian volleyball player Tifanny Abreu are also in the running for the Tokyo Games, according to Athlete Ally, an LGBT+ athletics advocacy group.
In the United States, the debate over trans athletes has focused on school sports, with at least five states considering laws that would restrict children to competing in leagues that align with their biological sex at birth.
Wolfe criticized such moves as ‘sickening’, accusing conservative US lawmakers of trying to ‘stop elite trans athletes from existing in the first place by preventing us from getting into sports at all’.
Wolfe trains most days, for three hours on average, fitting it in around her job at her local grocery store.
She has one more major competition in Hiroshima, Japan this April before the USOC decides who it will send to the Olympics for Team USA.
‘My goal is to get as far as I can go,’ said Wolfe. ‘And if that means gold at the Olympics, then cool. But if not, I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished along the way.’