Trans Athletes: The Concerning Case of CeCe/Craig Telfer
In 2016 Craig Telfer was ranked 200th in Men’s 400m Hurdles
In 2017 Craig Telfer was ranked 390th in Men’s 400m Hurdles
In 2018 Craig Telfer transitioned and became a woman, CeCe Telfer
In 2019 CeCe Telfer is the national champion in women’s 400m hurdles
Reading over the above entirely true series of events, the controversy of CeCe Telfer’s dominating win for her college – Franklin Pierce University – in the NCAA Division II four hundred-meter hurdles becomes immediately apparent.
In late May Telfer, who had spent the previous 12 months undergoing hormone therapy in accordance with NCAA guidelines smashed her CIS female competition to become the champion of the category she had chased before becoming a ‘she.’
But unlike the guidelines of say, the International Olympic committee, the NCAA sets no standards for what amount of medication to do so must be taken nor for what level of testosterone is acceptable for the athlete to engage in female competition.
While trans athletes remain a rather small segment of total athletes across both the country and the world, the successes of MTF (Male to Female) trans athletes against CIS gendered female counterparts in various women’s athletics have triggered controversial – and sometimes vitriolic – discussions about balancing the preservation of female athletics with trans access in the era of hyper-political correctness.
Even the traditional bloc of ‘social justice warriors’ has been experiencing infighting amongst the ranks as some high profile women athletes see the rising domination of people born biologically male in their leagues and conferences as concerning, to say the least.
CeCe Telfer’s domination of the 400-meter hurdles that Craig had been so utterly mediocre in throughout their career in the men/mixed gender division has been the most recent high-profile case of potential abuse; at least according to many within the world of track and field.
Even traditionally apolitical outlets – generally more concerned with sport than policy – like athletics site LetsRunNews have seen themselves enter the fray as members of the track and field community lay out their concerns,
“Transgender woman CeCe Telfer, who was born and raised as Craig Telfer and competed on the Franklin Pierce University men’s track and field team during her first three years of college, won the women’s 400-meter hurdles national title at the 2019 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Telfer dominated the competition, winning in 57.53 as second place was way back in 59.21.
Prior to joining the women’s team this season, Telfer was a mediocre DII athlete who never came close to making it to nationals in the men’s category. In 2016 and 2017, Telfer ranked 200th and 390th, respectively, among DII men in the 400 hurdles (Telfer didn’t run outdoor track in 2018 as either a man or woman). Now she’s the national champion in the event simply because she switched her gender (Telfer’s coach told us that even though she competed on the men’s team her first three years, her gender fluidity was present from her freshman year).
The fact that Telfer can change her gender and immediately become a national champion is proof positive as to why women’s sports needs protection. Telfer ran slightly faster in the 400 hurdles competing as a man (57.34) than as a woman (57.53), even though the men’s hurdles are six inches taller than the women’s hurdles. Yet when Telfer ran 57.34 as a man, she didn’t even score at her conference meet — she was just 10th at the Northeast-10 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2016. Now she’s the national champion.”
Is This Becoming a Serious Problem?
While CeCe and her coach have argued that her success compared to Craig’s lack thereof is neither due to the half foot decrease in hurdle height nor the change in competition on the field that comes with it, the reality is the science and standards in place don’t really make a strong case for that.
CeCe’s coach, Zach Emerson, has argued to those upset by the perceived unfair competition that CeCe’s massive leap from 390th in Men’s to the #1 spot in Women’s is due to a superior work ethic over her previous 3 years as a male athlete. Seemingly playing down the fact that CeCe jumped almost 400 spots from where Craig – by all rights just as dedicated an NCAA athlete – had been prior to therapy.
Such a fluffy feel-good narrative might satiate those who were merely looking to confirm a bias in support of CeCe’s successes/trans access, but for those of us daring enough to be ‘politically incorrect’ that answer is, well… a complete non-answer.
Medical physicist Joanna Harper, who has served as an adviser to the Olympics on transgender issues and is a male to female transgender person herself, affirmed the NCAA doesn’t have a set limit for testosterone for trans women, nor does she believe there is consistent verification of T levels. “The NCAA has not set a maximum T level for trans women, and I don’t believe that they do any independent verification of hormone levels,” said Harper.
Unfortunately for Telfer and co, when it comes to biology, ‘work ethic’ is a lot less important than muscle mass and the biochemicals supporting and/or augmenting that muscle mass. Since we know the NCAA did not at all gauge Telfer’s testosterone or manage her therapy it seems a lot more likely that the formerly male athlete had a biological advantage on the field as opposed to one of superior preparation.
With Telfer, her coach, and her supporters quite literally lacking any scientific evidence to offer to rebuke that seemingly obvious assertion – because they don’t have to – the growing concerns of the athletic community over the increasingly blurred lines of fair competition appear well warranted.
At the least, it affirms the arguments against trans athlete’s like Telfer’s ‘unfair’ successes are certainly not borne of bigotry, but hard empirical science and the concerns that come with it.