On Thursday evening at the Para Athletics World Championships in Paris, Italian sprinter Valentina Petrillo made history as the first transgender athlete to win a medal at an international Para championship. Petrillo secured the bronze in the women’s T12 400m final, finishing in 58.42 seconds. (The T12 category is for athletes with a visual impairment.)
Omara Durand of Cuba clinched gold with a time of 52.82 seconds, and Alejandra Perez Lopez of Colombia took silver in 57.88 seconds. Despite being 18 years older than her competitors, Petrillo beat Morocco’s Fatima El-Idrisi by a second and a half to claim the bronze. She is also set to participate in the women’s T12 200m event.
Perfect sync and a gold 🥇!
La reina de Cuba 🇨🇺 and her guide Yuniol Kindelan get their fourth consecutive world title in the women’s 400m T11 with 52.82.
🥈Alejandra PEREZ LOPEZ 🇻🇪
🥉Valentina PETRILLO 🇮🇹
👀Watch it: https://t.co/4l9K6R7Vh9 pic.twitter.com/UIqkY0Yb2w
— #ParaAthletics #PARIS23 (@ParaAthletics) July 13, 2023
The 49-year-old Petrillo competes in the T12 classification due to her visual impairment caused by Stargardt disease, which she was diagnosed with at the age of 14. After a long hiatus from athletics, Petrillo returned to the sport at the age of 41 as a man, winning 11 masters titles in men’s categories. Although Petrillo did not run with a guide, the two runners ahead of her did.
Petrillo began her transition in 2017 and underwent hormone therapy in 2019. In 2021, she became the first transgender athlete to compete in an international Para competition. The eligibility rules of World Para Athletics state that athletes can compete in women’s events if they are recognized as female by law. However, the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines on transgender participation ultimately influence how cases are handled. While World Athletics has placed restrictions on transgender participation, the IOC has put off making a decision on individual sports.
World Athletics bans transgender athletes from female category
The implications of these rulings have not yet been extended to Para events. Earlier this year, organizers of the World Masters Indoor Championships issued a warning against potential protests targeting Petrillo, who ultimately did not start the women’s 45+ 400m event.
Petrillo, in a 2021 interview with the BBC, expressed her respect for and adherence to the rules set by the IOC and World Athletics. She emphasized that her transition was not driven by a desire to win, but rather for her own personal journey. “I don’t feel like I’m stealing anything from anyone,” Petrillo said.