August 27, 2019
When June Eastwood steps onto the start line for the Clash of the Inland Northwest cross country meet on Saturday morning in Cheney, Wash., she will make history. Eastwood, a senior at the University of Montana, will become the fastest distance runner to ever compete in an NCAA Division I women’s race.
In fact, it won’t even be close.
Eastwood’s personal best in the 800 meters is 1:55.23. That’s almost four seconds faster than the collegiate record of 1:59.10 set by Raevyn Rogers in 2017.
Her personal best in the 1500 is 3:50.19. Jenny Simpson’s collegiate record, unchallenged for a decade, is almost 10 seconds slower (3:59.90).
Eastwood has run 14:38.80 in the 5,000, far ahead of Simpson’s collegiate record of 15:01.70.
Despite those PBs, it is far from certain Eastwood will win on Saturday. Eastwood has won just two races out of 56 in three years of competition for Montana. She’s never won a national title or earned All-American honors. In fact, she’s never even qualified for the national meet.
The reason? For the first three years of her career, June Eastwood competed on the men’s team.
Chromosomally, Eastwood is male as she is transgender and recently transitioned to female. When she races on Saturday, she will become the first known male-to-female (MTF) transgender runner to compete in a Division I NCAA cross country race. This will be her first race since undergoing testosterone suppression treatment; no one knows how fast she will be, but she will undoubtedly be slower than when she set her PRs as a male.
Here are five facts about Eastwood and the situation that you need to know.
1) For her first three years at the University of Montana, Eastwood competed on the men’s team
As a member of the Montana men’s cross country team, Eastwood was the Grizzlies’ #1 runner at the Big Sky Championships and NCAA Mountain Regional meet in both 2016 and 2017. In track, her best event was the 1500m (the metric mile), where she was a scorer at the Big Sky Conference meet in 2018. She ran her last race as a male in May 2018.
2) Eastwood’s times as a male would crush the women’s NCAA records
As noted in our intro above, the times Eastwood ran as a male are much faster than the current NCAA women’s records in those events. As a male, her best event was the 1500m, where her personal best time of 3:50.19 is just slower than the women’s world record of 3:50.07 by Genzebe Dibaba and is equivalent to a 4:08.6 mile.
Of course, Eastwood’s times will be slower as a woman due to the testosterone suppression treatment. How much slower? We won’t know for sure until she starts racing. But Joanna Harper, an expert on transgender athletes who is also a runner and has undergone a MTF transition herself, doesn’t think Eastwood will come close to what she ran as a male.
“I think that most people will be surprised at how much slower she will run,” Harper said. “Remember back in 2010-2012 when everyone thought that [Caster] Semenya was sandbagging. Soon people will be saying that about June too. She just isn’t going to be that fast in [cross country]. She will do better in the 800 and 1500 in the spring, but I still doubt that she will dominate.”
3) Per NCAA rules, Eastwood must suppress her testosterone in order to compete in the women’s category
The NCAA transgender handbook states that an MTF transgender athlete must undergo “one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment” in order to compete in the women’s category. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Eastwood has been taking testosterone-suppressing pills for one year (in addition to estrogen pills) and is in “full compliance” with the NCAA regulations.
However, the NCAA policy is very lax and vague compared to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) transgender rules. The NCAA’s policy makes no mention of a minimum testosterone level that must be achieved or a minimum level of medication that must be taken, nor dooes it mandate independent verification. Contrast that to the IOC, which requires that an MTF transgender athlete “must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.”
4) Eastwood first questioned her gender identity in fifth or sixth grade
Shaylee Ragar of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle has a nice profile on Eastwood and her decision to transition and compete on the women’s team. A state champion as a male in high school, she is now an unproven rookie about to compete as a woman for the first time. ABC Fox Montana will have a special report on Eastwood in September and has a teaser video on her here.
5) Eastwood is not the first male-to-female transgender athlete to compete in track and field at the NCAA level
While Eastwood is the first known Division I MTF transgender NCAA track and field/cross country athlete, she is not the first in any division. This past year, CeCe Telfer won the NCAA Division II title in the 400m hurdles.
As a male, Telfer was a mediocre hurdler at Franklin Pierce University. She transitioned to female before the 2019 track season. Then, after never scoring at her conference meet as a male, she became a national champion her first year competing as a woman.
Comparatively, Eastwood was far better competing as a male in her events than Telfer was. According to the IAAF’s scoring tables, Telfer’s personal best of 57.34 in the 400 hurdles is equivalent to 4:05 in the 1500 and 15:05 in the 5,000 (reminder: Eastwood’s PBs are 3:50 and 14:38).
If Eastwood comes out and dominates this fall, will it spur the NCAA to overhaul its vague and weak transgender policy? And if she doesn’t, will MTF transgender athletes become more widely accepted in the sport of running? Will she encourage more athletes in the position Eastwood occupied as a freshman — a woman feeling trapped in a man’s body — to transition and compete as the gender they identify with? How will her teammates and competitors react?
Unless Eastwood is utterly awful this fall, it seems likely that she will face questions about whether she has an unfair advantage because of her chromosomal sex — and how big that advantage is. If she’s 20th at NCAAs, will someone complain that she bumped someone out of All-American honors? If she’s 5th at her conference meet, will someone complain she bumped someone out of all-conference honors? If she’s 5th on her team, will someone complain she bumped someone off the travel squad?
All of this makes Eastwood one of the most compelling athletes in the NCAA this fall. How she runs — and how the NCAA reacts — could set a precedent for how the NCAA handles MTF transgender cases and reshape the future of women’s sports.
Discuss this issue on the LetsRun.com messageboard: MB: First transgender athlete June Eastwood to compete in women’s DI XC this fall, has pbs of 1:55/3:50/14:38