Monday, August 25, 2008

Who's da man..??

Some of you might have heard this story...anyway here it goes....
"In the 1936 Olympics, Helen Stephens won against her bitter rival Stella Walsh, in the 100 meter sprint. Helen won the race in 11.4 seconds. Fans and supporters of Stella Walsh protested that no woman could run that fast.Thus doubting whether Helen was a woman or not. The tests that followed concluded that Helen was indeed a woman. After about 40 years Stella Walsh got shot by a bullet, and her autopsy revealed quite a shock. In fact it turned out that it was Stella Walsh who was not completely female."
In another such case :
"German "woman" athlete Dora Ratjen competed in the 1936 Olympics and came fourth. In 1938 she set a world record at the European Championship. Later it was found out that Dora was actually a man, named Hermann Ratjen, forced to do so by the Nazis. He then went back to be a man, and was happy with his original identity."
So down the years, gender testing in major sporting event had become vital. You don't want a male in disguise to compete with women. With all his natural advantages, he will have a competitive edge over them ( what happened to Hermann's advantage when he came fourth...?? ).There needed to be some way to determine that a female was indeed a female. That is easier said than done...!

In the early days of Olympics, only men participated, that too in the nude. So there was no such problem. However in modern Olympics, where even women participate, such needs arise. Women athletes, pumped up with a lot of nutrients and rigorous training, become hard to differentiate just by visual examination. So initially these test involved physical examination by a panel involving female doctors. However the really degrading nature of this form of test led to banning it.

Soon, methods involving chromosomal tests began to be used. Even this was not without controversies. In some rare cases, certain female athletes failed the test because of some abnormal genetic variation called adrogen insensitivity ( probably Stella Walsh's condition). This enabled them to have male hormone producing abilities, giving them a slight strength boost, however otherwise they were completely female.

Down the years, several female athletes were banned following this test, but later reinstated after a long therapy process ( removing the male hormones, and taking away the 'advantage' ). Even an Indian athlete S.Santhi, who won the silver medal in the women's 800 meters had failed a gender test at Doha Asian Games. This completely shattering her personal life and her career ( imagine someone telling you that you are not a woman/man, after years of believing otherwise).

So, apparently looks cant be used to differentiate. Sometimes even hormones are messed up, and give false information. So even the International Olympic Committee is not sure of these methods to determine femininity. They had also stopped the tests till a more conclusive way was found out. However they are conducted. The controversy continued even in the Beijing Olympics, where gender testing was apparently done.

So as it may seem, there is sometimes no distinct lines to differentiate. They sometimes overlap. Even males have female hormones too. Some just like to think like someone of the opposite sex and wish to be so. Anyway, thats a different story. But the underlying fact is that, its what you believe yourself to be. Like Stella probably did not know or care of her condition and hence lived a life as a woman, and so she was one. However the case of Hermann was different, who thought on the inside like a man, no matter how he dressed up as. and done so with the intention to cheat. As far as Olympics is concerned, gender will always remain a contentious issue... especially now, after even transsexuals have been given the opportunity to participate in it too ( Conditions apply )....!!


Philip Kingsley said...

Its too bad for Dora Ratjen to cheat on gender issues..

Visu said...

Yeah da Philip, and forget not Shanti sundararajan. Lol..

sriram ramaswami said...

oh yeah shanti sundararajan. who could forget that?? she(??) recieved a cash award too i belive. Fro our beloved CM

sriram ramaswami said...
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