Olympic Preparation

IOC testosterone policy is not gender neutral


LONDON – Claressa Shields, the 17-year-old boxer who claimed the first gold medal in the middleweight division in Olympic history Thursday, is proud of her masculinity in the ring.
“I know there’s not one male in this world that’s seen me box that’s said I fight like a girl,” Shields told a gaggle of reporters at a training session last week.
Strong, cocky and tough — traits normally associated with men — they helped her pummel all three of her opponents on her way to the gold. But Shields knows she is 100 percent female, which is why she wasn’t so keen on an idea being bounced around to make skirts a required part of the uniform for female boxers, who made their debut at the Olympics this year.
“I didn’t even understand that. I guess it was to separate the men from the women,” Shields said. “I was like, we got different names, women got breasts, we got butts. I can tell which is which.”
Yet if an official or opponent decides to question which Shields is, because she won’t wear a skirt or any other reason, her career may be what takes the knockout blow. According to researchers Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young, a new testosterone testing policy put in place by the International Olympic Committee little more than a month before the London Games basically reinstitutes gender policing at the Olympics, a practice the IOC discarded more than a decade ago.
“This isn’t just about intersex women, this is about all women,” said Karkazis, a senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford. “If you have small breasts, big muscles and a lower voice, you are just as suspect. How is that different than Caster Semenya? It invites a kind of scrutiny that is really scary.”
The policy allows the chief medical officer from any country’s organizing committee, an IOC commission member or the athlete herself to question a female competitor’s levels of the androgen hormone. Androgen, the original anabolic steroid, occurs naturally in the body but can react differently than its synthetic form and appears distinctive from its synthetic form in doping tests. If the woman is found to have levels similar to a man’s and it gives her a competitive advantage, she could be required to undergo hormone therapy or be banned from competing in women’s events.
The policy ostensibly stems from the case of Semenya, an 800-meter runner who holds the fastest qualifying time for today’s 800 final at Olympic park.
At the 2009 World Track Championships, Semenya crushed the fastest time in the world that year — previously held by Soquel’s Maggie Vessey – by more than a second. It was also nearly four seconds faster than the South African runner’s previous personal record.
Skeptical opponents questioned whether Semenya was actually a woman, and their accusations set off a heated discussion of gender in sports. At the center was an embarrassed Cemenya, who had to sit out 11 months while undergoing gender testing before she was declared to indeed be a woman.
With the London Games upcoming and Semenya in position to qualify, the IOC met with various groups – including some representing hyperandrogenous and intersex people – in Miami in 2010, according to IOC media liaison Mark Adams. There they laid out a policy for differentiating between male and female competitors.
Since 1999, the IOC has recognized athletes’ gender to be whatever they claimed in their legal documents.
“It is important to emphasize that the policy does not include ‘gender testing’ or ‘sex testing,’” IOC spokesperson Andrew Mitchell wrote in an email. “Female competitions are for females, male competitions for males. The new rules are not intended to find a new definition for what is male and what is female. They only address the problem where females have functional androgene [sic] levels in the ‘male range’ [with consequent competitive advantages] and how such females should be judged in relation to their participation in competitions for females.”
That’s just the problem, say Karkazis and Jordan-Young. They say an athlete’s naturally occurring androgen hormone levels aren’t an accurate litmus test of how masculine or feminine a person is, even if the person is in the gray intersex range. Higher levels also don’t necessarily equate to better performances, even when a male or female’s body is receptive to the hormone.
Its may provide some advantage, they say, but no moreso than other traits like the cavernous lung capacity of British rower Pete Reed, who can take in nearly twice as much oxygen as Lance Armstrong, and the hyper-flexible joints of American swimmer Michael Phelps.
“It’s not like it’s irrelevant,” said Jordan-Young, an associate professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University. “But what you can’t say is you can predict strength and speed from testosterone.”
In addition, testosterone levels fluctuate. For example, the body naturally boosts testosterone levels in response to winning, and the first five placers in a final – the winners – are the ones who are automatically tested for doping. Athletes also generally produce higher levels than average. So a fit woman could win a medal, test for unusually high levels of testosterone and, if she also looks masculine, be singled out as a candidate for hyperandrogenism.
That raises another problem with the policy, according to the researchers. It unfairly places the spotlight on women who don’t conform to the popular idea of how a woman should look.
The year after Semenya was suspended from competition, Alysia Montano of Berkeley, who runs with a flower in her hair, took over the 800 world record for 2010. She, too, cut close to four seconds off her PR and was also coming off a foot injury that sidelined her for 2008 Olympic trials. Yet, her gender was not called into question.
“Could she have high testosterone?” Karkazis said of Montano. “Yeah, but the sense is no one is making a big outcry about it [because she looks more feminine].”
As with most things, the need for separation of the sexes mostly comes down to money. Medal winners receive usually receive cash from their country – the U.S. pays $25,000 for gold — and may receive additional bonuses from sponsors. As far back as 1936, then, there has been concern that men would enter women’s events to unfairly capitalize on those spoils. The IOC began gender testing in 1968 and it continued through 1996, when it stopped the process under social pressures.
Karkazis said she would like to see the IOC revert to a policy in which it does not gender test.
“Every biological way [of determining gender] has created these gray areas that make it sort of subjective, so we say [go by] legal sex,” she said.
Karkazis and Jordan-Young, who met earlier this week with Arne Lundqvist, chairman of the IOC’s medical commission, said they were told female athletes had requested a policy be put in place.
However, neither gold-medal boxer Shields, nor the women at a USA Track and Field team press conference last week, nor many of the wrestlers, weightlifters, swimmers and other athletes seemed to have given the policy much thought. They may not have even  known it even existed.
“Some things you don’t focus on,” said USATF head women’s coach Amy Deem. “You can only control so many things. I only focus on what I control, and I can’t control that.”

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Crazy Olympics schedule

So, I was just sending our Assistant Sports Editor Jim Seimas, who is fabulously manning the Sports desk while I’m in London, an email explaining why I had turned my story in late yesterday. Then I realized some of you might be interested in how a day in the life of an Olympics reporter goes.
So, this is my Thursday, the night before the Opening Ceremony:

Wake up at 9:30. Catch the 11 a.m. bus to the media center. Get there at 12:15. Get settled into my locker, do a little research on the weightlifter and boxers i am supposed to be covering.
Leave by 12:30 to catch a train to the boxing press conference. Get there at 1:15. I hoped to be back for the weightlifting press conference at 2 and a Olympics-related computer seminar at 3 and a swimming conference at 3:30, but boxing goes all the way until 3:30.
I get back to the press center at 4, catch the tail end of the swimming conference (Ryan Lochte is cute up close, and Missy Franklin is adorable), then go straight into a diving conference, where the girl I need isn’t there.
I bolt early but got to tech support because i can’t connect my phone to the internet at the press center. It takes an hour to figure out what’s wrong with it. Never really do figure it out, so i resort to using my computer.
Go to a gymnastics conference that is packed. Go to get something quick to eat at McDonald’s at the food mall nearby since I haven’t eaten since 10 am and it’s 8:30. McDonald’s is slooooooooow service, but the fries are good and I can get a latte or a shake with my meal deal.
Finally sit down to start writing at 9:30 or so. Finished the column by 10:30 and sent it to Tony to edit but forgot to post it when I caught the bus and got back to the dorm at midnight. Started writing my preview story, finished by 2:30, had Tony edit it and we posted it and photos by 3:30 a.m. London time.

It’s fun and worth it, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work.

Categories: Olympic Preparation, Olympics | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Team USA boxing photos

Just a few quick shots from the Team USA Boxing training. More will come late with a story Julie is writing.

Categories: Athletes, Boxing, Events, Marlen Esparza, Michael Hunter, Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Photos, Rau'shee Warren | Leave a comment

The crowds in London

Julie emailed me tonight to let me know that I might be able to steal a shot of the Opening Ceremonies final dress rehearsal, but it was pretty lae already and I had settled in. But, not one to miss a dramatic night shot, I sprang into action (slowly rolled off the bed). When I got to the Olympic Park I was shocked for two reasons: first, I missed the rehearsal so I wouldn’t get any shots. Second, the crowds were huge. I mean really huge. I somehow made my way up alongside the massive crowd being held back by security to ease the load on the public transit system. This was a section of the crowd on a bridge, shoulder-to-shoulder two dozen people wide and 100-150 meters deep. I made my way to the back when I had a thought … hey, I’m a photographer and this seems like an interesting story. So out the camera came and I shot away.

People were getting frustrated and no one liked being in that crowd for so long, but to be fair to the Olympic staff and security, they kind of had to hold people back. That many people all trying to catch trains, buses and subways all at once would cause even more problems. But I really felt bad for the people in the crowd. Especially since I now was one.

I slipped past one group and made my way to another behind them being held back for their turn to descend upon the bridge, only to be held back again before they could enter the station. I waited for them to move, got my shots and looked around for my own exit. I found it in the mall. Yes, thank God for the mall.

You enter the mall on the second story and can go downstairs near the entrance. So down I went and sure enough I was able to walk right into the station to get on my train with no problem at all. I’m a sneaky little guy.

Anyway, here are the four photos I sent off to the paper. I hope they find a way to use them because I didn’t see any other photographers there. SCOOP!!!

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The best laid plans of mice and men

I said yesterday that I was going to shoot a boxing practice today as part of a story Julie has planned. Well, I didn’t lie … I was GOING TO shoot a boxing practice. Only today’s practice wasn’t open to the public, tomorrow’s is. So I’ll shoot it then. But I got there early while Julie was at the main media center for the beach volleyball press conference and had to wait for her. I tried to email her, but I didn’t have a wireless connection there. We’ll try again tomorrow.

While I waited I shot some stuff for work. Today the lines on the road were repainted to accommodate Olympic vehicles and shuttles. This caused a lot of confusion as there was a long line of cars down a little street leading into a residential area. I felt bad for them even though signs had been posted this would happen for months now. Still, it sucks to have your routine messed with.

After I met back up with Julie we headed to Brick Lane, which is full of Curry houses, coffee shops and hip clothing stores. It felt like a much narrower Haight Street in San Francisco. This was also near the area frequented by Jack the Ripper. In fact, I think victim No. 2, Annie Chapman, was found on the corner of Brick Lane and Hanburry Street, which happens to be near where we ate lunch (nice little Syrian place with good shawarma and the best ice tea I’ve ever had).

Pretty quick day. Most of our time was spend on the Underground or eating. We want to get an early start tomorrow, but it’s already past 9 p.m. and Julie isn’t back from the media center yet and she still needs to write a story. How is it that even when we don’t work at the paper and are on the other side of the world, we still go to bed at 2 a.m. every night?

Categories: Behind the Scenes, Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Photos | Leave a comment

My first day without Julie

Julie and I were going to do a little shopping today and pretend we had money, but work got in the way. Julie was able to go to the media center, but alas, I’m on the outside looking in again. Julie was able to check out the White Water Centre today with a rafting trip so I wandered the streets of London alone, which is what I’ll be doing a lot of in the coming weeks. It’s OK. Except for the blister I got on my foot, everything worked out great. I first went to a mural commissioned by a man who lives in Watsonville (photo to come when Julie has her story ready), then I just wandered. I tried getting some video around the Tower Bridge, so that’s why you don’t have any photos today. I’ll keep getting more video over the next few days and try my hand at editing something together. My computer is slow and I’m limited on what I can film because of NBC’s exclusive rights but I’ll get you something. Tomorrow I get to shoot a boxing practice for a story Julie has cooking, so I’m very excited about that. Until then.


Categories: Behind the Scenes, Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Travel | Leave a comment

I drink beer … oh, and more photos

When there are so many pubs around all the time, it’s hard not to have a pint (or two) with my bangers and mash or fish and chips (hold the mushy peas). Julie is starting a whole series of me drinking, but I’ll let her post those.

The Games are really starting to show their presence here now. Our first day or two was pretty quiet at the place we are staying but is now buzzing with activity. The city seems a little more crowded as well but that could have a lot to do with the nice weather we had today. You’d think the sun hadn’t been out in years with the way people were loving it. Hyde Park was full of people just chillin’ on the grass or tossing a disc.

The London Underground is my new favorite way to travel (sorry BART). Why can’t we have this efficiency in the States? I thought I’d have a hard time since there are so many lines and transfers but it’s super easy. And the people are mostly great. Julie and I were even serenaded on our way home by an saxophonist from the Republic of Cameroon in town for the River of Music Festival. We’ve already traded emails even. He invited us to Cameroon and I invited him to California to play at one of our many fine jazz clubs.

Speaking of both the Games and the Underground, all the stations are clearly marked with venues to make traveling even easier. Of course, when the Games start things could completely fall apart. But for now, things are good.

I think Julie has some more Team USA practices and press conferences for us to go to. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get access to all of them, but I’ll try. I’m hoping for at least boxing. Basketball and my $50,000 one-on-one game with Kobe will just have to wait (you’re welcome Kobe).

For now, enjoy some photos from Across the Pond.

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Bevan Docherty looking good in tune-up

UPDATED 7/22/12
Santa Cruz Westside resident Bevan Docherty, a three-time Olympic triathlete for New Zealand, competed in an ITU sprint triathlon in Germany on Saturday and finished an impressive 11th. He finished as the top Kiwi even though by his own analysis he was “soft” in the latter part of the run.

“I’m happy with that, it’s the first time I’ve raced a sprint event in a few years. I thought I’d get my butt kicked but I was pleasantly surprised,” Docherty told the media post-race.

“I came out of the water okay and felt really great on the bike. My biking has been going well and today I felt really fresh, and that set me up for a good run. I was a bit soft over the last 500 metres, I could’ve dug in a bit more.”

Matt Chrabot, the Olympic alternate for the U.S. men’s team and a new transplant to Aptos, also competed and finished 30th 30. Matt Chrabot in 52:49.

Here is a link to the New Zealand Herald’s story on Docherty.


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Some photos of our first few days

I wanted to take more photos, really I did. But it was a little rainy so I had the camera put away and the one place that I could have had a field day with photos, Westminster Abby, did not allow any photography.

Julie and I are starting to switch from vacation mode to work mode. Even though I’m technically on vacation until Friday I did do a little work today. I shot the USA archery team practicing.  That’s when Julie spotted some beach volleyball courts nearby, so when we finished up with the archery she dragged me over to the courts where she proceeded to sweet talk her way into a quick game. I say quick because she pretty much dominated. It wasn’t even close. I don’t think her partner wanted her to leave.

Then we went back to vacation mode and saw “Wicked” at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on the West End. Somewhere in there we also had a pint or two …

… or three.

Oy, these blokes here can drink.

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We are in london

We made it with no problems. Right now we’re waiting for our flight to Amsterdam. Over the next few days this blog may resemble a travel blog more than and Olympics blog. Just hang in there, we’ll get to the Olympics soon enough.
Speaking of the games, we ran a story in the paper about all the problems the Olympics are causing and one of the main issues was long lines at the airports and untrained staff. This could not be further from the truth. Friendly and efficient was the way of things. It might have had something to do with the fact Julie got the VIP treatment with her press pass (so did I simply for being with her. I sure married the right person).
London, you’ve been good to us so far, can’t wait to come back in a few days.
But for now, Amsterdam, here we come.

Categories: Olympic Preparation | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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