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Two Trans Runners One From Sonoma County Have Withdrawn From State Championship Track Meet

The decision followed a week of widespread condemnation fueled by conservative media outlets.

The migration began around 5:10 p.m., two dozen or so supremely fit young women making their way from the warm-up area to the track at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Clovis, site of this weekend’s California state high school track and field championships.

Chatting nervously, pogoing in place, pumping their arms as if already racing, they stood in line to check in at an officials’ table. Preliminary heats for their event, the 1,600-meter run, would start in 20 minutes.

There was Hanne Thomsen, the superb sophomore from Montgomery High School, who cruised to third place in her heat and will race in the finals Saturday night. Nearby was another sophomore sensation, Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura, heavy favorite to win the event.

Conspicuously absent were a pair of transgender runners, one from Southern California, the other a student from Sonoma County. Both found themselves in the crosshairs of numerous right-wing media outlets last week.

The Press Democrat is not naming either athlete to protect their privacy as minors.

By finishing second in the 1,600 at the CIF North Coast Section meet in Dublin, the Sonoma County runner had qualified for the state meet in Clovis.

But at what cost? It was widely reported — on Fox News, the Daily Mail in London, the New York Post, among many other outlets — that by punching her ticket to Clovis, the Sonoma County student had deprived another runner of the chance to compete in the state meet.

An anti-trans group posted video of the fourth-place finisher flashing a thumbs-down sign. That gesture, they falsely claimed, was an expression of her displeasure at having her spot taken by a trans athlete.

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The truth is that the thumbs-down girl had merely been expressing to her parents disappointment in her own performance, according to a statement issued by the school.

And the Sonoma County runner’s second-place finish hadn’t cost the fourth-place finisher a berth in the state meet, after all. The third-place finisher dropped out to focus on other events, allowing the fourth-place girl to advance. (That girl, however, also did not compete for unspecified reasons.)

None of which prevented the story from blowing up in the right-wing media ecosystem. It was amplified on Twitter by GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley and Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman virulently opposed to trans women competing in women’s events.

Members of an anti-trans group had shown up for the qualifying meet in Dublin, unfurling a banner before security guards escorted them from the premises.

Following a week of widespread backlash and condemnation directed at the trans runners, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect larger numbers of protesters to show up for the meet in Clovis.

That didn’t happen. Two Press Democrat reporters took multiple laps through the crowd, and saw no protesters. The San Francisco Chronicle reported seeing one. Two Clovis police officers on duty in the stadium said they’d neither seen nor heard of protesters.

Neither trans runner could have known that. Both athletes withdrew from the meet, prompting the California Interscholastic Federation to release this statement, shared with The Press Democrat:

“The CIF is disappointed for two of our student-athletes and their families because due to the actions of others, they found it necessary to withdraw from the State Track and Field Championships out of concern for the students’ well-being.”

Since 2013, California has legally allowed student-athletes to compete in the category that best represents their gender identity, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.

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“The CIF strongly denounces discriminatory or harassing behaviors that impact our student-athletes opportunities to participate in interscholastic competitions,” the organization’s statement continued.

That sense of disappointment was not as apparent on the ground at the meet.

One coach, whose runner qualified for the finals in the girls 1,600-meter run, told a reporter he’d been unaware of the controversy. Another coach shared the belief that trans runners do enjoy an advantage.

“I want my girls to run without having to worry about” that perceived advantage, said the coach. “And I want (trans runners) to be able to run without having to worry about protesters.”

Noting in a tweet that neither trans runner competed in Clovis on Friday, anti-trans activist Riley Gaines asked, “Did they realize they clearly possess an unfair advantage? Or is that too optimistic?”

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