The State Cyclocross Championships in Illinois this weekend produced an unprecedented result: Tessa Johnson and Evelyn Williamson, two transgender cyclists, took first and second place in the women’s singlespeed division. This accomplishment represents yet another example of transgender athletes succeeding in women’s sports, a trend that continues to spark debates and arguments.
Against a field of competitors, Johnson and Williamson—both transgender women—came out on top; cisgender lady Kristin Chalmers came in third. Johnson won the $150 first place award in the women’s division 1/2 race in addition to her silver.
The pair has been involved in women’s cycling competitions for a number of years. In particular, Williamson has finished first in eighteen different national races since 2017, according to Reduxx, a website that covers news about women’s rights. Their current achievement mirrors a comparable result from the October Chicago Cyclocross Cup series, in which they likewise placed first and second, dropping a cisgender female competitor to third.
These findings, which were emphasized by an online podium photo, have provoked strong responses from a variety of sources. The legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova expressed her displeasure, bemoaning the replacement of female players by transgender athletes. Journalist Piers Morgan expressed similar views, querying why women’s rights activists weren’t objecting more widely.
Riley Gaines, a former swimmer for the University of Kentucky and outspoken supporter of preserving gender-based divisions in sports, has proposed monetary rewards to female riders who choose to withdraw from USA Cycling events in protest during the issue. This attitude comes in the wake of a recent occurrence in the UK where a female pool player pulled out of a match against a competitor who identified as transgender.
The Chicago CrossCup organizers, who overseen the races this past weekend, declare that they would comply with USA Cycling’s rules for transgender athlete participation. Their website expressly condemns harassment or discrimination of any kind, including those based on gender identity.
The recent decision by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for sports cycling, to bar transgender riders from competing in elite competitions beginning in July has given rise to a new discussion in this ongoing issue.
The events taking place in the cycling scene in Illinois highlight a larger, more nuanced conversation in the sports world that strikes a balance between fairness and diversity in competitive settings.