Nikki Hiltz and the History of Trans and Nonbinary Olympians

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Nikki Hiltz and the History of Trans and Nonbinary Olympians

Nikki Hiltz reacts after winning the women’s 1500m final at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., on June 30. Credit – Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Nikki Hiltz doesn’t just represent the U.S. on the race track.

“This is bigger than just me,” the 29-year-old from California told NBC after qualifying for the Olympics on June 30 after running 1500 meters in 3 minutes and 55.33 seconds, a personal best and a meet record in the women’s event. “It’s the last day of Pride Month, and I wanted to run this one for my community. All the LGBTQ folks, you guys brought me home that last hundred. I could just feel the love and support.”

Hiltz, who identifies as transgender and nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, already holds  the American record for the women’s outdoor mile. They are now set to make more history next month as one of only a few gender nonconforming athletes ever to compete at the Olympics.

In 2021, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard took part in the Tokyo Games, becoming at age 43 one of the world’s first openly trans Olympians. Facing controversy over her alleged biological advantages over female-born competitors, despite suppressing her testosterone levels below a certain threshold, Hubbard failed to medal.

In the same Games, mononymous soccer player Quinn became the first trans-identifying person to win an Olympic medal, taking home gold with Canada’s women’s team. (Quinn had earned a bronze medal in 2016 but only came out as nonbinary in 2020.) They will be vying for another medal in Paris this summer.

BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe also made history that same year, becoming the first openly trans athlete to join the roster of Team USA, after she qualified as an alternate, though she ultimately didn’t compete in Tokyo.

Skateboarder Alana Smith, who identifies as nonbinary, did compete in Tokyo for Team USA, at one point holding up their skateboard with their preferred pronouns “they/them” scribbled on it. Though they didn’t medal, they said they accomplished their goal at the Olympics, which was “to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me.”

In 2022, American figure skater Timothy LeDuc became the first openly nonbinary Olympian to compete in the Winter Games in Beijing, where they placed 8th in the pairs category alongside their partner Ashley Cain-Gribble. “I know for me, people who are non-binary, it’s only possible because amazing queer people have come before me and laid the groundwork for me,” LeDuc said at the time. “And so now I want to do that for others to come after as well.”

Read More: Your Guide to the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics: When and How to Watch—and What to Expect

Sports has long grappled with issues of sex and gender identity, as many critics of inclusivity have argued about potential unfairness. Most competitive individual and team events are also organized around binary sex and gender categories.

In 2004, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) first opened its Games to transgender individuals under certain conditions, including undergoing hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery. The surgery requirement was removed in 2016 to reflect more modern attitudes, but male-to-female transgender athletes were still required to meet certain testosterone levels for a year before they could compete. In 2021, the IOC updated its policies again to allow each sport’s governing body to determine its own rules for the participation of trans and nonbinary athletes.

Since then, global governing bodies for athletics, boxing, cricket, cycling, and swimming, among others, have tightened their rules on trans athletes, particularly trans women who were assigned male at birth.

But as more people open up to the notion of gender as a spectrum, especially with younger generations increasingly identifying as nonbinary, athletes like Hiltz, who was assigned female at birth and has always competed in women’s events, are showing opponents that it’s not so easy to politicize the issue.

After a social media user accused Hiltz of being “a mediocre man stealing a woman’s place on the Olympic team,” Hiltz responded with a laughing emoji and said to search what nonbinary means.

“I knew an Olympic birth would bring tremendous amount of online love and support but also knew the massive platform would bring in some hate and ignorance as well,” Hiltz later added on Instagram. “Throughout this journey to the Paris Olympic Games I’m going to continue to use my platform to uplift trans and queer folks and maybe educate some people along the way too. If you consider yourself an ally to the LGBTQ+ community I hope you join me in doing the same.”

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