Megan Youngren, who finished the California International Marathon in two hours and 43 minutes, will be the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the 2020 Olympic marathon trials, Sports Illustrated reports. If successful, Youngren could go on to represent Team USA in Tokyo, an honor held by only the most elite athletes in the country. Youngren follows in the footsteps of Chris Mosier, the first transgender man to compete in an Olympic trial, and the first transgender athlete to be sponsored by Nike.
Youngren publicly came out as transgender in 2012, and has said that her transition led her to long-distance running. She began running for weight loss and health in 2013, and three years later she competed in the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska, with a finish time of four hours, 48 minutes. The elevation on that marathon trail was 3,285—a trail that could kill the spirit of any nonprofessional runner, but Youngren only wanted more.
After running the Los Angeles Marathon in 2019, Youngren committed to running a sub-three-hour marathon, a feat inconceivable by novices such as myself, who took three and a half hours just to run a half marathon (13.1 miles). She continued to train after work, mostly running trails and pushing her body through unforgiving elevation, and logging 85 miles of running per week.
“I thought that if I worked incredibly hard and took some huge risks that I could run a 2:45,” Youngren told Sports Illustrated. “People will try to put it down by saying, ‘That’s too easy because you’re trans.’ But what about the 500 other women who will qualify? There’s probably someone with the exact same story. I trained hard. I got lucky. I dodged injuries. I raced a lot, and it worked out for me. That’s the story for a lot of other people, too.”
As Youngren moves towards her historic appearance at the Olympic qualifiers on February 29, she faces more than harsh trails and lactic acid build-up. Trans athletes looking to compete at the Olympics must fall in line with the IOC’s strict rules on testosterone levels. Sports Illustrated reports, “A transgender female athlete must demonstrate that her testosterone level in serum is below ten nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before competition and must remain below that level for the period of desired eligibility to compete as a woman.” But the testosterone litmus test enforced by the IOC has also extended to female athletes with naturally elevated levels like Caster Semenya, who must decrease their natural levels of testosterone to compete in women’s sports at the Olympic level. While Youngren’s levels recently tested under ten nanomoles per liter, it’s a long road between now and Tokyo. While she stands a chance of making it onto Team USA, the IOC has developed a reputation for squashing change before it has a chance to flourish.
Read the full story at Sports Illustrated.
This headline has been updated to more accurately reflect the “first” Megan Youngren is achieving.