Gender Issues in Athletics: Nancy Navalta

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Nancy Navalta

Nancy Navalta

Nancy Navalta was not the first controversial athlete who undergo gender questions. Other Filipina female sprinters Mona Sulaiman, Juliette Poulding, and Gina Sucopol created gender issue questions?

In the early 1990s, seventeen-year-old Nancy Navalta burst into Philippine track and field, running the 100 meter dash at 11.44 seconds. While It’s an even more amazing feat considering how green she was. Nancy had no training. Hence she just ran on sandy beaches with a sack of rocks slung over her shoulders.

While newspapers lauded this daughter of a fisherman, this girl who went from being a stonepicker from Luna to star athlete. While her early wins made her eligible to join the national training program. Yet some commentators began to talk about the Atlanta Olympics.

Nancy never did get to Atlanta. The idea that a female newcomer can run so fast, coupled with features like her “flat chest,” “muscled physique,” and a “wispy mustache” raised suspicions that Nancy Navalta was male.

“Nobody noticed me when I was losing,” Nancy later said in a 2004 interview.* “But when I started winning, they began questioning my gender.”

He was forced to undergo medical tests. Then came the Philippine Sports Commission ruling that Nancy is “genetically male.”

Jennifer Finney Boylan’s column makes relevant points regarding the inherent flaws of gender testing at sports competitions. “They measure maleness and femaleness by the wrong yardsticks, and in the process, they ruin the lives of the innocent.”

I imagine that Nancy, who now works as a college track coach, agrees. “No one even bothered to find out how I felt about the situation,” she said. “The nation feasted on me in a mad scramble for the juicy parts.”

And scramble for “juicy parts” they did. While the newspapers that praised her humble origins and hard work turned malicious. Articles talked of her “undeveloped penis” and the absence of a uterus and ovaries. The best hope for Philippine women’s sports, they wrote, was a man.

“I am a woman,” Nancy countered. “It’s cruel to say that I’m not.”

 

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New Strait TImes 1995

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