Track Cycling

Trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon wins championships despite detractors – Outsports

A year ago, a philosophy professor from the College of Charleston by way of Canada put up a gold medal performance at the 2018 UCI World Masters Track Cycling Championships in Los Angeles.

Cycling’s first transgender world champion was met with internet brickbats and Bronx cheers, calling her a “cheat.” She barely reached the winner’s podium as a host of right-wing websites spread their version of the story, and their vitriol.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Dr. Rachel McKinnon used the mean tweets, slights, and some death threats since her win in 2018 as fuel. Her 2019 competitive season was filled with tune-up races and intense training toward the 2020 UCI World Masters, and a chance to send a message.

Last weekend on a track in Manchester, England, she sent that message with her second consecutive Sprint gold, a silver in the Time Trial event, and a world record to boot.

McKinnon qualified with a record effort and set up a sweep to the gold in the Sprint finals on October 19
Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

As expected, the boo-birds have been out since her victory in the female 35-39 sprints Saturday, October 19th, including a prominent one with a prominent name.

It wasn’t the first time the eldest son of the President used Twitter to ridicule transgender athletes. In February, he fired off a “mean tweet” toward Franklin Pierce University hurdler and NCAA Division II women’s 400 meter hurdle champion Cecé Telfer.

Trump Jr.’s latest gripe stemmed in part from a televised interview with Britain’s SkyNews on Sunday October 20th, where McKinnon answered those who say she should not able to compete. “We care about sport. It is central to society,” McKinnon said. “If you say ‘Well, I believe you are a woman’ for all of society except this massive central part which is sport, then that’s not fair. Fairness is the inclusion of trans women.”

“This is much bigger than sport in that it’s the proxy for all trans inclusion in society,” she continued. “Talk of bathrooms has shifted into sport by people who don’t care about sport, so it’s clear that this issue is bigger than sport.”

SkyNews asked McKinnon about a controversial Swedish study published in September that opponents of transgender inclusion cite as proof trans women athletes have an advantage.

“Is it possible? Yes it is possible,” McKinnon told SkyNews. “But there are elite track cyclists who are bigger than me. There is a range of body sizes and strength, you can be successful with massively different body shapes. To take a British example, look at Victoria Pendleton, an Olympic champion with teeny tiny legs.

”In many Olympic disciplines the gap in performance is bigger between first and eighth in a single sex event than it is between the first man and the first woman.”

It’s also important to note: The researchers of that Swedish study admitted their work was actually not applicable to transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that this study was conducted with untrained individuals and not transgender athletes. Thus, while this gave us the important opportunity to study the effect of the cross-hormone treatment alone, and as such the study adds important data to the field, it is still uncertain how the findings would translate to transgender athletes undergoing advanced training regimens during the gender-affirming intervention.”

“All my medical records say female,” McKinnon told the U.K. reporter. “My doctor treats me as a female person, my racing license says female, but people who oppose my existence still want to think of me as male.

”There’s a stereotype that men are always stronger than women, so people think there is an unfair advantage. By preventing trans women from competing or requiring them to take medication, you’re denying their human rights.”

The punch-counterpunch were the latest salvos after a week in Manchester that saw her spend as much time defending her right to compete as she did defending her Sprint championship she earned the year before.

Her quest began on Wednesday October 16th in the 500m Time Trial event. Only a slight bobble kept her away from gold, finishing second to the USA’s Dawn Orwick by one-hundredth of a second. A slight disappointment, but it was quickly overshadowed two days later. McKinnon went out to qualify in Saturday’s Sprint event finals. She showed why she has earned the nickname of “Her Thighness” with a powerful effort on the 200-meter track in 11.643 seconds. The performance was a world record for the female 35-39 age group. It was a goal she set to achieve since the beginning of 2019. It also made her the top seed for the eliminations the following day.

The new mark also came with the same old controversy. In an interview with BBC Sport, British former world champion Victoria Hood who had said that that other competitors “sacrificed” the opportunity to compete at the World Championships because “they don’t want to compete” against McKinnon.

British former champion Victoria Hood on McKinnon’s record in qualifying: “What you saw is all power and that is what comes from being born male.”
BBC.com/sport

“The science is clear. It tells us that trans women have an advantage,” Hood stated. “There is this myth that if a male body transitions to a female body then it becomes a female body. We know that’s a myth. It’s a lie.”

In response, McKinnon issued a press release prior to the start of the Sprint event head-to-head eliminations. The release was a point-by-point rebuttal to Hood. “Ms. Hood has expressed an irrational fear of trans women,” McKinnon stated in the release. “An irrational fear of trans women is the dictionary definition of transphobia. Transphobia has no place in sport.”

McKinnon made her case on paper and then closed the case with sprint sweeps and a second world title
Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

From there, McKinnon’s legs did the talking. She powered past Australian Amber Walsh to sweep the best-of-three semi final sprint. In the final, she was matched with her nemesis in the time trial event Wednesday. McKinnon had the upper hand this time with a clean sweep of Orwick to claim her second gold, complete with a victory lap with a small transgender flag waving aloft.

McKinnon flew on the track, and then flew the transgender colors in celebration
Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

After the victory lap, she sported a larger azure-salmon-cream banner in triumph before receiving her gold medal on the podium.

Since returning from Manchester, the anti-trans barbs and criticism from sources such as Donald Trump, Jr., via social media have been constant, but so have supporters of McKinnon as well.

What comes next for the now-two-time world champion? She admitted on her Twitter account that the scrutiny and level of hate was higher than last year. She’s taking some time to enjoy a well-earned championship and preparing for a November meeting with the IOC to discuss issues in transgender inclusion in Olympic sport. She declined to comment for this report.

As to her detractors? She’s left something for them to look at and consider.

You can watch McKinnon answer the Sky News reporter’s questions about her supposed “advantage” below via YouTube, or by clicking here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After publishing this story, Rachel McKinnon tweeted that our original headline (“Trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon keeps winning”) was “false,” maintaining that she does not always win. This is an important point, of course, and we have consistently reported this talking point in our coverage of trans athletes CeCé Telfer, Athena del Rosario, Andraya Yearwood, and others: trans athletes do not win every event they compete in, and that fact is conveniently overlooked by their detractors.

However, our intention in writing “Trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon keeps winning” in the headline is to refer to her world championships. We’ve adjusted that accordingly to better reflect our meaning.