Valentina born Fabrizio Petrillo, class of 1973, turns 50 this year and changes category in national masters athletics competitions. On 11 and 12 March in Ancona, she competed in the F50 category for the first time, that is, with female athletes aged 50 to 54. And again, with its ultra-male body, easily racked up trophies and records that belonged to female athletes.
But What is it like to see a live ultra-male body competing against female bodies? What are the reactions of female athletes, spectators and experts?
Today we present a report of the Ancona race on 12 March by Marco Alciator, a statistician who has already analysed Petrillo's performance in detail before and after the transition from male to female (here) and her numerous records in the women's category of Paralympic and masters competitions (here).
When I arrived at the arena I was able to speak with one of the leading figures in the Italian masters sector with international titles, who confirmed to me how the masters climate (over 35) is 'friendly but there is real competition and nothing is given away'. Also from one of the competition judges I was able to get a statement on the event and a thought on 'combating unfair competition through doping'.
The race of interest this time is the 200m category F50 because Petrillo, class of '73, rose through the ranks at national level. The highlight is the 4th series, the fastest one. When Petrillo and the four athletes enter the track, the different physicality is immediately noticeable. At the beginning Cristina Sanulli seemed to be able to hold her own against Petrillo, but at the last moment she overtook her with a sprint and takes first place.
Cristina Sanulli crossed the finish line second, followed by Denise Neumann and Agnese Rossi (here the video, from 32'30"). The three of them should be on the podium, were it not for the fact that Petrillo is still unbelievably entitled to compete in the women's category: in the men's M50 category with his time he would have finished 14th, more than two seconds behind.
At the end of the race, a 'Brava Cristina!' could be heard from the stands, followed by a liberating and convinced applause from the tribune, largely composed of athletes and other team members in uniform. At that point Petrillo loses control, he leans over and shouts two or three times: 'Dedicated to all those who want to hurt me', and here he is picked up by the referees. It must be said that I did not hear any insults or even booing towards her, the focus was on supporting the athletes.
The moral winner is definitely Cristina Sanulli, with a time that would have earned her the Italian record in her category, but bureaucratically it is not his. Petrillo's time is recorded for now. Note how the speaker has a jolt of authenticity and ask -away from the microphones but audibly-: "But can it be given as a record?" (video, at minute 34'10").
The award ceremony quickly takes place with the presentation of a medal and T-shirt, but with an obvious sense of unfairness for what we see before our eyes: an athlete who was regional level in the men's category who now, as a 'woman', beats international champions despite being visually impaired.
I can talk to injured athletes. Agnes Rossi under fair sporting conditions she would have stood on the podium, which she was denied today, and she is very clear when she says: "The sporting spirit is to recognise when there are stronger athletes, but competition must take place with respect for the category: with female athletes of the same sex, not with those who have maintained male bodies." And he is particularly convincing when he recalls the time taken away from family and work in order to achieve his goal.
Denise Neumann, world-class athlete, manages to get on the podium but she was denied her second place. Thanks for the support for women's sport received and hopes that this year will bring novelties in terms of rules and a return to fair competition, listening to the voices of the athletes. Neumann thinks of the new generation of girls: "The medals can be retrieved at a later date, but the gratification taken away on the day of the competition cannot be returned.
Here then Cristina Sanulli, the fastest, doubly damaged, deprived of victory and a national masters record. She is delighted with her chronometric performance of 26.50, perhaps the best indoor time ever, but with "a bit of bitterness in her mouth because [my time] It would have been an Italian record but Valentina Petrillo with a time of 26.25 beat it for me.
Sanulli adds: 'I also speak for most of the girls who run with me: we do not feel equal, precisely because [Petrillo's] physical structure is male, and so it is like running not at par. [...] Although the [personal] path Valentina has taken is respectable, athletically speaking it is not, and in this we feel very discriminated against."
Cristina Sanulli also recalls her 30-year career and sacrifices, and the many aspects that contribute to high-level results: a passion for sport, consistent dedication to training, specific diet and grit.
This brings Petrillo's master titles, which pre-transition had no titles, to eight. In addition to the record in the 200m, the day before was Petrillo's 400m victory over Cassandra Sprenger, with the list of dozens of damaged and unheard athletes growing longer.
Valentina Petrillo is already registered for the World Masters Athletics Championships to be held in Torun, Poland, from 26 March to 1 April. At the international level, the change of category takes place on the birthday, so Petrillo, who will turn 50 in October, will still compete this year in the 45-49 age category. When he was Fabrizio was not among the top 20 in Italy, as Valentina will soon be on the world podium.
Introduction by Maria Celeste