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McKinnon is first transgender woman to win world title

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Rachel McKinnon on the Masters Worlds podium with her rainbow jersey

Rachel McKinnon on the Masters Worlds podium with her rainbow jersey (Image credit: @rachelvmckinnon on Twitter)
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Rachel McKinnon on the Masters Worlds podium with her rainbow jersey

Rachel McKinnon on the Masters Worlds podium with her rainbow jersey (Image credit: @rachelvmckinnon on Twitter)

Rachel McKinnon became the first transgender woman to win a world title at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships at the VELO Sports Center in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday. Representing Canada, McKinnon beat Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen (Netherlands) in the gold-medal round of the women’s 35-44 sprint.

"First transgender woman world champion…ever," McKinnon posted on Twitter following the event.

McKinnon, who competes in both road and track cycling, was born biological male and identifies as being a transgender woman. She is a professor and PhD in philosophy at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, teaching on the subjects of philosophy and ethics, and with a focus on gender studies.

The UCI Masters Track World Championships was held from October 6- 13 with events open to men and women riders 35 years of age and older. There included three sprint events: match sprints, 500-750-1000m time trial, team sprint. There were four endurance events: pursuit, scratch race points race.

McKinnon set a new World Record during the women’s 34-39 Sprint Qualifying Flying 200m, with a time of 0:00:11.92, which was broken during the subsequent heats. During the women’s 35-44 sprint gold-medal final against Van Herrikhuyzen, McKinnon won the first two rounds to take the world title. Jennifer Wagner (USA), won the final for bronze against fourth-placed Linsey Hamilton (USA).

Policies concerning transgender women in sports have changed drastically over the years. As of 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) currently rules that transgender women competing in women's events must test below a specified level of testosterone (10 nanomoles per litre) for more than one year before they are permitted to compete. The UCI abides by the sae policy.

In many cases, biological males who identify as transgender women must undergo therapy to suppress naturally occurring testosterone in their bodies (testosterone blocking) to meet the sport governing guidelines on competing in women’s sports events, and they must be tested and provide a doctor's note. McKinnon told Velonews that her testosterone results are below the bottom of the average female range. "They are actually undetectable. My endogenous testosterone is undetectable. My body makes next to nothing," she said.

In an interview with USA Today in January, McKinnon said that the 10 nanomoles per litre limit was an arbitrary number, and that men and women have varying levels of natural testosterone; some women have higher levels and some men have lower levels. She believes hormone suppression is against human rights and that testosterone testing is insensitive. She noted the Olympic Charter in saying that participating in sport is a human right.

“We cannot have a woman legally recognized as a trans woman in society and not be recognized that way in sports. … Focusing on performance advantage is largely irrelevant because this is a rights issue. We shouldn’t be worried about trans people taking over the Olympics. We should be worried about their fairness and human rights instead,” she told USA Today.

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.