“It seems clear that defendants knowingly instituted this test for the sole purpose of preventing the plaintiff from participating in the tournament,” a New York Supreme Court judge wrote. Richards played in the US Open that year, at age 43. She was soon eliminated in singles, but reached the doubles final.
At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, eight women failed the chromosome test because they carried Y chromosomes. All were allowed to participate after it was shown that they had hormonal disorders that prevented them from experiencing typical male development. By the 2000 Olympics, international sports organizations had abandoned the chromosome test and turned to ad hoc medical examinations.
Testosterone-based sex testing started about a decade ago, after South African track star Caster Semenya won the 800m race at the 2009 World Track and Field Championships by more than two seconds. Criticized for her strong physique, Semenya was forced to undergo examinations by an endocrinologist and a gynecologist, as well as mental health assessments by a psychologist.
The results of those tests were never released publicly, but Semenya later revealed that she was forced to take drugs to lower her testosterone in order to compete. In 2011, World Athletics, the body that oversees athletic events, introduced its first policy for women with high testosterone, limiting concentrations of the hormone to 10 nanomoles per liter. (The average testosterone level in women is less than 3 nanomoles per liter, while in men it usually ranges from 10 to 35 nanomoles per liter.)
Many experts speculate that the rules have changed because of Semenya. “It really was a response to a phenomenal athlete,” said Pennsylvania State historian Schultz.
Four years later, the IOC relaxed its policy on transgender athletes, who had previously required them to undergo genital surgery and legally change their gender, to focus solely on testosterone. Transgender women should demonstrate reduced blood levels of the hormone for at least a year.
In 2020, after several challenges in international courts, the World Athletics’ testosterone rule was enforced. Semenya, who refused to take testosterone-suppressing drugs, was unable to compete in the 2020 Olympics.