Valentina born Fabrizio Petrillo, born in 1973, turns 50 this year and changes category in national masters athletics competitions. On 11 and 12 March in Ancona he competed for the first time in the F50 category, that is, with female athletes aged 50 to 54. And again, with his masculine ultra-body, she easily hoarded trophies and records that belonged to female athletes.
But what is it like to see a male ultra-body compete against female bodies live? What are the reactions of the athletes, the public and industry experts?
Today we present to you a report of the Ancona race on 12 March by Marco Alciator, statistician who has already analyzed in detail Petrillo’s performances before and after the transition from male to female category (here) and his numerous records in the female category of Paralympic competitions and able-bodied masters (here).
Arriving at the arena, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the protagonists of the Italian master sector with international titles, who confirmed to me that the master climate (over 35) is “friendly but there is real competition and nothing is given away”. Even from one of the judges I was able to get a statement on the event and a thought on the “fight against unfair competition through doping”.
The race of interest this time is the 200m category F50 because Petrillo, born in ’73, has moved up the ranks at the 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 seems to be able to keep up with Petrillo, who however at the end overtakes her with a sprint and win first place.
Cristina Sanulli crosses the finish line second, followed by Denise Neumann and Agnese Rossi (here the video, from 32’30”). The three of them would be on the podium, if it weren’t for the fact that even today Petrillo is still incredibly authorized to compete in the women’s category: in the men’s M50 category, with his time, he would have finished 14th, with over two seconds behind him.
At the end of the race, a distinct “Brava Cristina!” can be heard from the stands, followed by a liberating and convinced applause from the stands, made up mostly of athletes and other team members in uniform. At that point Petrillo loses control, he leans out and shouts two or three times: “Dedicated to all those who hate me”, and here he is reprimanded by the referees. It must be said that I didn’t hear any offense or even boos against him, the focus was on supporting the athletes.
The moral winner is definitely Cristina Sanulli, with a time that would have earned her the Italian primacy in the category, but bureaucratically it does not appear to be his. For now, Petrillo’s time is recorded as a record. Note how there speaker have a jolt of authenticity and ask -far from the microphones but audible-: “But can it be given as a record?” (video, at minute 34’10”).
The award ceremony takes place quickly with the delivery of the medal and shirt, but with an evident sense of iniquity for what we see before our eyes: an athlete who in the men’s category was of regional level who now, as a “woman”, beats international champions despite the visual impairment.
I can talk to injured athletes. Agnes Rossi in conditions of sporting fairness she would have climbed the podium, which she was denied today, and she is very clear when she says: “The sporting spirit involves recognizing when there are stronger athletes, but the competition must take place with respect for the category: with athletes of the same sex, not with those who have kept a man’s body.” And it is particularly convincing when he recalls the time taken away from family and work in order to achieve the goal.
Denise Neumann, athlete of international level, manages to get on the podium but she is denied her rightful second place. Thank you for the support received for women’s sport e hopes that this year will bring changes from the point of view of the rules and return to competing in a fair way, listening to the voices of the athletes. Neumann thinks about new generation of girls: “Medals can be recovered at a later time but the reward taken away on the day of the race cannot be returned”.
Here then Cristina Sanulli, the fastest, doubly damaged, deprived of victory and a national master record. She is fully satisfied with her lap time of 26.50, perhaps the best indoor time ever, but with “a little bitterness in her mouth because [il mio tempo] it would have been an Italian record but Valentina Petrillo beat it with a time of 26.25”.
Sanulli adds: “I also speak on behalf of most of the girls who run with me: we don’t feel like equals, precisely because the physical structure [di Petrillo] is masculine, and so it’s like running not evenly. […] Despite the route [personale] that made Valentina respectable, athletically speaking it is not, and in this we feel very discriminated against.”
Cristina Sanulli also recalls her thirty years of career and sacrifices, and the many aspects that contribute to high-level results: passion for sport, constant dedication to training, a specific diet and grit.
This brings Petrillo’s master titles to 8, who had no titles before the transition. In addition to the record in the 200m, the day before the victory over the 400m of Petrillo against Cassandra Sprenger had been recorded, with a list of dozens of athletes damaged and unheard of ever longer.
Valentina Petrillo is already registered for the Masters Athletics World Championships to be held in Torun, Poland, from 26 March to 1 April. At an international level, the change of category takes place at the birthday, so Petrillo, who will turn 50 in October, will participate again this year in the 45-49 age category. When he was Fabrizio he was not among the top 20 in Italy, like Valentina he could soon reach the world podium.
Introduction by Maria Celeste