“Surly Shirley” and the assault on women’s sport–then and now

by Worriedmom

The year is 1976, and the place is the Montreal Olympics. And it’s clear that something is wrong.

The East German women’s swim team is unstoppable. Inhuman, almost. Smashing every record, every competitor, sweeping every race – then jumping out of the pool like it wasn’t even challenging. Race after race, the American women – before this, favored to medal, if not win, most swimming events – are outclassed, demoralized, destroyed.

What could possibly be happening? Who are these women? Where did they come from and how are they dominating this Olympics so thoroughly? Today, of course, we know that the East German and other former USSR-bloc women athletes were part of massive, intensive, state-sponsored doping programs, that “processed” thousands of female athletes, pumping them full of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancing drugs to turn them into athletic machines.

Kornelia EnderAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent disclosure of state-sponsored doping programs, the story of the East German women’s drug scandal today is well-known. Sadly, many of these athletes, such as Kornelia Ender (pictured left) did not even know until much later that they were the victims of a doping machine. As Ines Geipel, an East German sprinter, stated, “We were a large experiment, a big chemical field test.” (Have we heard this somewhere before?)

Virtually all of the “doped” women went on to suffer serious health consequences stemming from steroid use, including chronic pain, kidney disease, heart attacks, infertility, and skeletal problems. Germany has now compensated some for their life-long health problems, and there have even been a few criminal convictions of “doping doctors.”

The drug program was not limited to swimming, nor East Germany, and several commentators have suggested that track and field records set during this period should be invalidated since it is unlikely they will ever be equaled.

Jarmila KIn 1983, Jarmila Kratochvilova, a “previously mediocre” 32-year-old Czech middle distance runner, set a world record in the 800-meter run in 1:53.28 seconds. That record has never been beaten in the 35 years since.

What is not as well-known today is that at the time, one particular woman, who was cheated out of as many as five gold medals – and who knew she was being cheated – was harshly criticized, ridiculed, and silenced when she dared to speak up about the unfairness she saw all around her.

Shirley Babashoff of the United States, then known as the “Queen of U.S. swimming” and  favored to exceed her stellar performance in the 1972 Olympics, arrived in Montreal in 1976. Her first clue that something was wrong was when she and the other U.S. women were changing in the locker room and heard men’s voices. Assuming the locker room was co-ed, they dressed quickly and looked around the corner, only to find the East German women’s swimming team.

Getting on the bus to return to the Village, Babashoff was asked by reporters for her opinion of the East German team. She replied, “Well, except for their deep voices and mustaches, I think they’ll probably do fine.”

The comment was the spark that lit the flame. (Source.)

As the 1976 Olympics went on, things got worse for the American women – and particularly for Shirley Babashoff. Beaten by East German women in all of the individual events in which she was entered (the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events), Babashoff won gold in only one event, the women’s 400-meter medley relay. Overall, the East German women won 32 out of a possible 38 Olympic women’s swimming gold medals.  Dubbed “Surly Shirley” by an unforgiving press, for continuing to speak out against the obvious cheating, Babashoff returned home from Montreal to find herself labeled a “loser” by none other than Sports Illustrated.

According to Mark Schubert, her coach at the time, “She was the only one that had the guts to speak out back then. If anybody had the right to speak out, it was her because she was the one that was cheated out of Olympic gold medals.” (Source.)

surly shirley olympics ceremonyDismissed as “shrill,” and “angry,” pictured is Shirley Babashoff, at left, during the Olympic medal award ceremony for the 400-meter freestyle, which she lost to Petra Thumer of East Germany. Thumer later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

The 1976 Olympics marked the end of Babashoff’s swimming career. No fame and fortune like that enjoyed by Mark Spitz in the same era, no valuable endorsements, no cereal boxes, just finger-pointing, blame and ultimately, anonymity. Babashoff went on to a career as a postal carrier and life as a single mother to her son. It’s only recently that anyone has become interested in what Babashoff has to say, and in her recent book, Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program, Babashoff expresses hope that the International Olympic Committee will consider re-awarding the gold and other medals from the 1976 Games to their rightful recipients. As of press time, she’s still waiting.

The other women athletes around Shirley Babashoff learned her lesson well. Speak out and get thumped in the press. Be labeled a “bad sport” or a “sore loser.” Get told you’re imagining things, or that you’re not seeing what’s right in front of your own eyes. Most important of all, don’t take yourself or your performance seriously. Give up your athletic dreams if they say you should, and do it with a smile on your face, like a good girl.

Could the parallel be any closer to what is happening to the female athletes of today, who are expected to compete with natal males in sports as varied as track and field, marathon running, weight-lifting, mixed martial arts, women’s football, American football, dodgeball,cricket, volleyball, golf, basketball, cycling, softball, even roller derby? After all, as Vice News puts it,

fallon foxTake that, cry-baby.

Most articles discussing the entry of transgender women athletes into women’s sports do not feature the voices of the women affected. A classic example is “Transgender Weightlifter Might Have ‘Unfair Advantage’ – Expert”, published on the New Zealand news site News Hub.  Quoted in the article are a skeptical professor, a defensive New Zealand sporting official, an annoyed Australian official, and of course Hubbard, who was given a platform to say the following:

lauren hubbard

lauren hubbard 2

No “fundamental difference.”

Typical of the coverage afforded transgender athletes, however, we rarely if ever hear from the women beaten by Hubbard, who competed as a male in weightlifting for many years, and has now broken several women’s Masters weight-lifting records.  In fact, anybody with an objection to Hubbard’s stunning performances is dismissed as “prejudiced” and “jealous.”   Shades of Shirley Babashoff, who was ridiculed for losing to the East Germans when she was favored to win, and critiqued for not somehow prevailing anyway in an entirely unbalanced and unfair competition.

sore loser awardsIn many ways the failure of women athletes to object to transgendered men in their sports is not surprising.  There is a strong taboo in athletics against appearing to refuse to take personal responsibility for one’s sporting losses. No matter the circumstances, athletes are expected to take all of the blame when their performance does not measure up to standards.  Even in circumstances that are objectively unfair and unequal, a female athlete – faced with the pressure to be socially correct, the requirement that females be “nice” at all times, and worries about being judged as a griper and a sore loser – will hold her fire and not point out the obvious.

Women athletes are in an impossible bind: speak out and suffer Shirley’s fate, or continue to lose in lopsided and unfair competitions. Nothing will change until the athletes themselves, and not their surrogates, begin to protest, speak out, and refuse to participate in patently unfair competition. Until then, women’s sports will continue to be vulnerable to domination by transgender males.  How long will it be until potential women competitors decide it simply isn’t worth it? Why compete at all, if not on a level playing field?

Even the youngest competitors seem to sense that protesting will lead only to being punished, not heard. In Connecticut in 2017, Andraya Yearwood, a male teenager, who had undergone no medical treatment whatsoever, entered, and won, high school girls sprint races (on both the state and regional level).

andrea yearwoodAccording to Sarah Hall, the female athlete shown being beaten by Andraya Yearwood in this picture, “I can’t really say what I want to say, but there’s not much I can do about it” (Source). “It’s frustrating,” said Hall, who finished third in the 200. “But that’s just the way it is now.” (Source.)

That’s just the way it is now.  Shirley Babashoff could have told her that.


29 thoughts on ““Surly Shirley” and the assault on women’s sport–then and now

    • No, no third category, there is no third kind of human body. Men remain men, women remain women, you compete with your biological sex. If you want to do something to your body based on the lifestyle you seem to want, then it’s not compatible with being a competitive athlete, we all have to make choices in life.

      Liked by 6 people

      • I agree with no third category. The only third category that I can think of would be intersex. (There would not be enough athletes for that category.)
        Biological XY men and women on steroids should be disqualified from competing in women sporting competitions.
        That would be good sportsmanship.
        There should be a way for intersex athletes to compete.

        Liked by 4 people

      • A lot of the transwomen who compete against real women have no chance in men’s sports. They would never accept a third category precisely because they want to dominate the women. The transwomen with common sense wouldn’t even try to compete against real women because they know that they have an unfair advantage.

        Liked by 4 people

      • “They would never accept a third category …”

        Because figuratively (and literally) bashing women is part of their sexual fetish. Because it’s ALL about sexual fetish, the whole trans cult bullshit.


    • @sanityandsafety Fears about “the end of women’s sports” because they are forced to compete with males is just a thinly veiled argument for jim-crow-type segregation. To say that women must be segregated to protect them from losing (or the knowledge of their biological inferiority) should strike any feminist as wrong. I read a really really good article on just this just recently. https://afreudiannightmare.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/chimera/
      The article talks about how girls and women should have a space to do sports by themselves if they want it, but also how women’s physical limits are because of their separation. our bodies have been stunted because of patriarchy.


      • You’re right, co-ed sports and more women in hard manual labor will alter the course of evolution for women.


  1. In the recent Commonwealth games in Brisbane the gay papers were churning out stories that the trans New Zealand weightlifter Gavin Hubbard had a lower testosterone level than natal women. However I also read a story from ‘the conversation’ that seemed to be suggesting that male transitioners still took testosterone as their body needed it to work properly. If this is correct transgender mtfs are blatantly deceiving us about the amount of testosterone in their bodies and should be called out. Does anyone know any more about trannys taking synthetic testosterone? I’d really like to know the full facts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know about male transitioners taking testosterone, however it seems that it is difficult for them to reach female levels.
      According to this study done on 98 trans males (http://journals.aace.com/doi/abs/10.4158/EP-2017-0116?code=aace-site), only those that took the highest dosage of spironolactone (=a testosterone supressor) could attain the female range. It also seems that it was more efficient on obese males than on fit males, a relevant detail to the question of sports, because athletes are seldom obese.
      Regarding the levels of testosterone that male transitioners are allowed to have to compete in sports, I have found this: https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/other-sports/99434993/professor-of-physiology-says-trans-athlete-has-advantage-in-speed-and-power
      But even if you take hormones out of the equation, there are other factors that can give males an advantage in sports: for instance, males grow taller than females, which is an obvious advantage in sports like swimming or basketball. Even if you focus on the individual case of a male who ranges in the average height of female basketball players, you have to take into account that there are more males of this height than females, which means that male transitioners as a group would be more likely to be selected in a women’s basketball team than females. This is not only about individual female athletes, this is about them as a whole.

      Liked by 3 people

      • It doesn’t matter what a male’s T level is. Higher T is only a stand alone advantage to female athletes. Transwomen also have the advantage of going through male puberty, during which T and genetics confers them a larger heart, lungs, bones, and muscle mass. There is no level of T that would make an adult male a fair competitor to an adult female. Unless you change the definition of “fair” which is what the TG lobby is in the process of doing.


  2. I can’t see the athletes boycotting. If they do, there are plenty of other athletes who would be happy to take their slots and go in their places, even if they have no chance of winning against transgender competitors. They just want to GO to the Olympics or the World Championships or whatever.


    • Athletes want to win. How dare you erase the desire to win burning in the heart of these athletes? Fucking years of graft, sacrifice, pain, and you want them to be happy with some 41 year old never-was shitting all over their sport? People who are happy to “just go” never make it to that level. I hope they boycott and soon.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Exactly! No one is going to go through all of that throughout their youth just to show up and smile through some tranny who could not win as a man taking their medals, that’s insane. This is going to come to a head, and soon. I also hope to see women competitors take control through a strike or issuing demands. Fat chance, but I can dream.

        Liked by 4 people

    • A female athletes’ strike is what is needed here, because the general public is not properly aware of this issue. People need to be informed about what is going on. “Regular Joes” are not going to be accepting of this blatant cheating.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Yearwood is a typical case. As a man, he didn’t even qualify for the dead bottom of his sport. He identifies as a woman? Bam, instead gold.

    Nothing but cheaters.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. It smells like good old fashioned cheating, to me.

    Seriously, though, I’m only the 1st generation of women that have been allowed to play competitive sports in school. My mother wasn’t able to play sports in school. She got to watch her brother play. Why do men have to ruin everything?

    Liked by 9 people

  5. This is one of the best posts yet! Very few members of the general public are aware of this issue. SJW are completely focused on what the transwoman wants. They need it pointed out to them that this is unfair. They need to hear from the women cheated out of medals. Let THAT be their social justice concern! Yet somehow, women never rate any concern, unless they’re natal men.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Worriedmom, great post. So many people have no idea that this is going on with women’s sports. I told my 25yo stepson and he couldn’t believe it. He just laughed at the insanity of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This article is about the Boston Marathon. Apparently, as long as no prize money is involved, women should not care if the race is unfair….they should just be happy getting a participation ribbon. Maybe they should allow men to dope as much as they want, so that their race is unfair too, and see how they feel.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. I remember life before Title IX. There were very few opportunities for women to participate in sports in the area where I grew up. So this stuff really angers me. I want to see women athletes fight back and to see other women having the athletes’ backs when they do.

    I would feel a little better if it went both ways: i.e. females who transition to be male are suddenly competitive in male sports. I managed to find one trans identified female who was a great female athlete and managed to remain competitive as a man, Chris Mosier. Does anyone know anything about this person?

    There is a trans identified female, Schuyler Bailar, who was a competitive swimmer on the Harvard women’s team. She was able to make the men’s team when she transitioned which is impressive, but she went form being a medal contender to coming in at 16th place. Her goal is to not come in last.

    When guys can compete as women just based on feeling female without any medical transition, that especially burns. Also seeing Fallon Fox win prize money for battering women in front of cheering crowds just disgusts me. When men are applauded for battering women, a whole lot of progress just went down the tubes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The whole Fallon Fox thing is weird though. Because I keep hearing ‘here’s a guy being paid to beat on women and cheered on for it’ but it’s not like some domestic abuse situation. MMA fighters are there to fight, that’s the sport. It’s more like Fallon gets to bring a gun to a knife fight than a man beating a helpless woman. Those MMA women are not helpless but they are very much outclassed against male fighters.

      When you take a martial arts or self defense class any decent sensei will tell you right away that if you have 2 opponents of equal skill then the larger fighter will have the advantage. In self defense classes they tell you your #1 goal is to get away, not to win a physical fight.


  8. Growing up tomboy in the 1970s, I was a huge tennis fan. I heard about Renee Richards, & it seems like many of the women’s best players at the time protested “her” being able to compete in women’s tournaments. But I don’t know the full story…I came across two relatively recent interviews of Dr. Richards:

    1. From 2007

    My excerpts:

    “She’s had her assistant, Arleen Larzelere, 60, prepare lunch.”

    (Must be nice! Guess “she” earned a male income as a physician?)

    “But as the conversation prompted by Dr. Richards’s new memoir, “No Way Renée,” runs to two hours, she grows restless. Dr. Richards is 6’2”, with the rangy body of a lifelong athlete, and in maturity, her angular bone structure seems to be pushing its way to the fore. And as she wearies of the interview, her body language seems to become more traditionally male, suggesting an athlete who is wearying of the game.

    Dr. Richards never wanted to be a pioneer. But in 1976, while taking part in women’s amateur tennis competitions, she was revealed to have once been a man, setting off a media feeding frenzy. The next year, when the United States Tennis Association tried to prevent her from playing in the women’s events at the U.S. Open, Open, she went to court and won the right to play.

    …Dr. Richards, who is surprisingly conservative. …And while she believes same-sex couples should receive the same benefits as those who are married, her idea of marriage demands a man and a woman.

    “It’s like a female plug and an electrical outlet,” she says.”

    2. From 2011:


    “In the 1940s, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, she was a he and he was a boy named Dick Raskind, who would outfit himself in his sister’s clothing and steal out into the streets on a somber winter’s night. On the Upper East Side in the late 1960s, Richard Raskind, M.D., would costume himself in a fashionable fall plaid and high heels and take his dog for a walk in the very neighborhood where he practiced eye surgery. Fortunately this is New York, and minding one’s business is an art form, and even as he sought out psychiatric advice and wrestled with self-denial, the she lurked quietly in the evening shadows. ….

    “I was the first one who stood up for the rights of transsexuals,” she says. “I was the first one who came out in the public as a defender, or a pioneer for their rights. Because I insisted on my rights as a woman to do something that was so momentous.”

    Richards ignored the advice of her father and most of her close friends — Walk away, they said — and turned to a law firm headed by Roy Cohn (a closeted gay man who would later die of AIDS) to take her case.”

    “When Renée came on the scene, she could not beat the top players,” says Trish Bostrom. “What happened was that the top players were not threatened by Renée. But I can remember walking off the court against her in Phoenix — I think I lost four and three — and I was thinking, ‘This isn’t fair. It’s not a female. She’s so tall.’ But because she didn’t threaten the top 15, the WTA folded. It would have been a different story if she’d been able to beat Chris Evert and Billie Jean.”

    One player, Beth Norton-Keibler, told me that she thought Richards held back against the best, perhaps hoping to win their support, a claim that Navratilova finds patently ridiculous. “Why would she? That’s crazy,” she says. “I totally disagree with that. You’re calling her a cheater, in a way.”

    If she had lost to Richards, Navratilova says, she wouldn’t have complained at all; because the WTA had no concrete rules about transsexuals when Richards came on tour, she always figured that the question of whether to accept the doctor was based on nothing more than a sense of fair play. And yet several of Richards’ opponents, feeling ambushed, walked off the court in protest as they were on the verge of losing matches: In 1978, in Columbus, Ohio it happened twice during the same tournament, the second time against Norton-Keibler, whose father declared it against his daughter’s “religious and moral convictions.”


  9. I am not afraid to speak out that being transgender is wrong and does serious psychological and physical harm to individuals. It breaks my heart to see so many go down this path of destruction like the Pied Piper leading rats and then children to their death.


  10. One would think that any self-respecting athlete – whether or not he/she was of the opposite sex – wouldn’t lower themselves to compete with an unfair advantage. that would be like a heavyweight boxer competing with a welterweight boxer and winning. Where’s the honour in that???

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why the lie HAS to be true. Transwomen are women and they always were so this is just another woman who happens to have denser bones, faster reaction time, larger lung capacity, a longer reach, more muscle mass and :ahem: a penis. Because if an athlete is a Man competing against smaller, weaker athletes then yeah, that’s BS and everyone knows it.


    • I think you’re getting at why so many natal men actually refuse to take the whole issue of men competing in women’s sports seriously. The reaction of most normal men is, “what kind of guy would do THAT?” – “*I* would never do that!!” Guys have been socialized since they were little not to do stuff exactly like this (sort of like most women would be pretty darn ashamed to try to win an age class that was decades over their true age, or to compete in the Paralympics). So since most guys assume that “no guy” would ever do this, the guys that actually WOULD do this, get to do it, because most men assume that it’s unbelievably rare and limited to a tiny handful. Well, I’ve watched this thing grow for several years now and it’s definitely more than a “tiny handful” (not that that was ever an excuse in the first place!).

      Liked by 1 person

  11. In addition to the grossly unfair cheater-ness of transwomen against female athletes I also think about men like Johnny Weir. Weir is an amazing athlete and one of the things that makes him amazing is the flamboyantly creative spark he brings into his sport. If he’d been born now would that spark be allowed to shine? Or would he just be another ‘girl’ doing the girl things that ‘all’ girls do? Keep the Boy in FlamBoyant.

    Liked by 1 person

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