A former world skiing champion who was disqualified from competing when it was discovered that he was intersex, has said transgender women should not be allowed to compete against other females in professional sports.
Austrian Erik Schinegger, 70, who won gold in the women’s downhill skiing competition at the 1966 World Championship, is backing similar calls from tennis star Martina Navratilova, saying transwomen ‘simply have a massive physical advantage’.
Mr Schinegger, who was assigned female at birth, was disqualified from competing in the 1968 Olympics when a test found that he was biologically male, and retired from professional sport after transitioning at 21.
Then and now: Austrian Erik Schinegger, 70, who won gold in the women’s downhill skiing competition at the 1966 World Championship, has backed calls for stopping transwomen from competing in female events
‘I thought I was naturally just better than the other Austrian skiers, including the men. But in fact, as we now know, I was a man myself.
‘I used to get offended when the men would say it was unnatural and it was impossible for a girl like me to beat them.
‘It was only later that I found out what they were saying was true and it was impossible.’
Mr Schinegger was born in 1948 in the village of Agsdorf in Carinthia where the midwife failed to notice that he had undescended testes and was biologically male with an outward appearance of a girl.
This is known as being intersex, meaning born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform to traditional definitions of male or female, and is a rare condition he shares with another well-known athlete: Caster Semenya.
Mr Shinegger is intersex – a condition only diagnosed when he was an adult and a celebrated skiing champion – and was assigned female at birth
As his intersex condition went undiagnosed, he was raised as a girl, named Erika, and went on to become a champion downhill skier
Mr Schinegger, pictured at the height of his skiing career, said his world collapsed around him when he found out he was intersex and biologically a male
Mr Schinegger was given a female birth certificate, baptised ‘Erika’, and throughout his entire childhood, he and everyone around him thought he was a girl.
He showed promise on the slopes from an early age, and would go on to decimate the opposition as a teenager, and win the World Championships aged 18.
Speaking to MailOnline about his incredible life, he said that having grown up as a girl she had always realised she was stronger than other girls and never realised why.
He said his world collapsed around him when he found out, and he would not wish the ‘nightmare’ of having to transition on anyone.
He added that he was enormously supportive of anybody who wished to transition, but added that did not mean transwomen or transmen should then be allowed to compete in professional gendered sport’s categories.
He said: ‘I won my medal because I was faster and better than the rest, but although I didn’t know it, I was also a man.’
Looking back on the day that changed his life in 1967, he said he had not been worried when he was asked to go to hospital after a routine test where he hadn’t even remembered what it was about.
Mr Schinegger, left, is seen after winning the 1966 World Ski Championships with runner up Marielle Goitschel, right, whom he later gave his gold medal to
The champion skiier was 20 years old when he was told, after a test carried out by the Austrian Ski Federation ahead of the 1968 Olympics that he was intersex
Champion: Mr Schinegger is seen celebrating his 1966 gold medal
The then 20-year-old skier was at peak physical condition and confident of winning three gold medals at the upcoming Olympics, when he opened the door to the meeting.
Inside, there were six of the Austrian Ski Federation’s most senior officials sitting in the room waiting for her.
He said: ‘I was a bit puzzled because they all looked so serious, but I thought what can they say, I was the hero of the nation, everybody loved me.’
As he sat down, one of the men looked up at him and said: ‘You will not be able to compete in the Olympic Games. We are withdrawing you immediately from professional sport.
‘We have had the results of your medical tests. You are a man. We want you to go on holiday for a long time until things have quietened down – and then you should say nothing so people forget you.’
He said: ‘I was devastated. But it made a sick sort of sense. I had always been more interested in women, I thought maybe I was a lesbian – I used to get a weird feeling in the changing rooms with the other female skiers – and my attempts at a relationship with boys had always left me frustrated and feeling cold.
A new life: Mr Schinegger says one of the first things he did after transitioning was to buy himself a Porsche
The former skiing ace was forced to retire from professional sport aged 21, after transitioning, and says he ‘lived a bit of a playboy lifestyle after that’
Mr Schinegger, pictured after transitioning, says transwomen should not be allowed to compete against other females in professional sports as they ‘simply have a massive physical advantage’
‘My first sexual experience was when I encouraged a 13-year-old friend of mine to strip off naked.
‘She wanted the money so she did it but when she saw me standing there with a red face and shaking I think she got scared, I remember she grabbed the money and her clothes and ran off, and avoided me all the time after that.
‘Of course I had boyfriends, and even made a few attempts at sex but they were not very special experiences and I decided to avoid it in future and put all of my energy into skiing.
‘It was only when I was skiing that everything was right with the world. When I was 12 or 13 I noticed that all my friends started to get periods and develop breasts but I had nothing.
‘Then they started seeing boys, but I just had no interest. I used to wonder what it was all about and found some pornographic magazines under my brother’s bed that I used to look at.
‘They gave me a funny feeling, but of course it was not a feeling I could do anything about. I used to do a lot of running and physical exercise to try and help me, and of course I had my skiing.
‘No one ever suspected anything. My mother was worried about me and my lack of development and once took me to hospital where the doctors examined me and decided I had suffered a hernia.
‘They said that explained why my private parts seem slightly unusual. What they did not realise was that inside I was a man.
‘It explained why as a young girl I was able to beat up the boys in my class and why I was more interested in playing with tractors than dolls. I went Christmas shopping with my mother once and I begged her to buy me a green toy tractor. But she refused and bought me a doll instead. I was so upset that when I was given it I took it outside and smashed its head off.
‘When I got older I would rather have been helping my father in the field or repairing the tractor than doing women’s work in the house with my sisters, washing and cooking.
The 70-year-old now runs a skiing school and says he is ‘content’ with life
Family: Mr Schinegger’s daughter Claire has children of her own and he says he enjoys being a grandfather
Happiness: Mr Schinegger, who competed in the Austrian version of Strictly Come Dancing, is seen posing with wife Christa on holiday
‘When the ski federation took away my place on the team I was devastated, but I refused to be pushed out of sight. I decided I did not want to live as a freak and put myself into hospital.
‘I refused to read the newspapers at first, and when I did I wished that I hadn’t, seeing how many of my former team-mates had turned their backs on me.
‘The women said how they did not want to go in the showers with me, and the men talked of how they always knew that a normal ‘skirt’ could not have been as good as me. They made it seem as if was all my fault.
‘I had months of tests and at one point decided to undergo a course of hormone therapy and an operation to give me breasts and a softer voice and make me really look like a woman because I thought it would allow me to get back onto the woman’s ski team.
‘But genetically I was still a man so that was not possible. I decided to have extremely painful surgery that allowed doctors to the male genitalia from inside my body.
‘When I left the hospital I was a man. The first thing I did was donate all my female clothes to charity and buy myself a suit and a Porsche. As a woman I was not allowed to have a sports car and they only let me buy a Volkswagen beetle.
‘I guess I lived a bit of a playboy lifestyle after that, I found it really easy to get girlfriends because they either felt that as a former woman I would be really sensitive and understanding to their needs, or else they felt fascinated by what I was really like naked.
‘My first sexual experience was with a girl not from the area where I lived. It was amazing and liberating. Later I calmed down and eventually married, and I even have a daughter now.
‘But it has not been easy. The Austrian Ski Federation refused to allow me to train as a man even though when competing against the men privately I notched up several victories. They were just embarrassed and wanted to sweep the whole thing under the carpet.
In 1988, on a television show broadcast by the Austrian ORF network, Mr Schinegger gave his 1966 gold medal from the World Ski Championship to the second-place finisher, Marielle Goitschel.
‘I had to hand back my medals and things I had been given, such as a building plot in my village, were taken away. I was treated as if I had deliberately been a fraud.
‘You should have seen the other villagers the first time I went to Church and sat on the right with the other men. You could have heard a pin drop.
‘Even today I hear people whispering ‘Erika’ behind my back. She will always be a part of me but sometimes I wish things had been a bit different. The biggest blow of all was losing my skiing, but now I have my family and my ski school and I am content.’
He said at the height of his skiing career it was enormously satisfying but something was always missing, and if the truth is told he now realises the happiest moment in his life was when his new wife told him she was pregnant.
He said: ‘We married believing that I was probably unable to father children and so it seemed at first because she repeatedly failed to get pregnant. Then we did some tests that actually found there was nothing wrong with me but rather with her.’
Eventually, Mr Schinegger had a daughter called Clare who was born in 1975. Since then she herself has had children, making him a grandfather.
He said: ‘My background obviously meant Claire had a hard childhood, I wish I could have spared her that, but I could never have left this village which is my home. I knew that if I could not make it work here I would have somehow been a failure.’