Korea’s First Transgender Athlete Stirs Up Controversy With Cycling Achievement

She had a clear stance.

A Korean athlete recently went viral for her gender.

Na Hwa Rin is the country’s first transgender athlete. The 37-year old cyclist made headlines after winning medals at the 2023 Gangwon Sports Festival. She joined the women’s division after it was confirmed that both the Gangwon State Sports Council and Korean Sports and Olympic Committee did not have gender regulations for the entry qualifications.


Her application and subsequent win caused a stir in the local news, with some saying she had an unfair advantage given her biologically male characteristics. Na Hwa Rin stands at 180 cm (5’10.9″) and weighs 72 kg (159 lbs) and she has a skeletal muscle mass of 32.7 kg (72 lbs), a dozen kilograms more than that of a typical female athlete.


She officially underwent gender-affirming surgery in Seoul last 2022 and was legally recognized as a woman.

LGBTQ advocacy groups welcomed her courage as a pioneer in Korean sports. They stood by her side in solidarity while others questioned the fairness of her participation. On her end, rather than being proud of her achievement, Na Hwa Rin said that “there is no honor” in her win.

I am not proud of myself at all. I believe other transgender athletes would feel the same way. They may not want to admit it, but they’re being selfish. There is no honor as an athlete in that.

 Na Hwa Rin

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Her goal was to prove that true inclusivity in competitions means opening a third gender division to accommodate transgender athletes.

I have no unresolved feelings over winning because that’s no longer what I want. My goal was to stir controversy and get my story heard by competing…it could be like how we have many weight divisions in some sports. The room will quickly fill up if we allow more people to compete in sports and let them live their dreams.

Na Hwa Rin

The cyclist emphasized that both women and trans athletes are likely feeling discouraged by the current set-up. Thus, having a “third gender” division will clear their concerns in her eyes.

Under the current binary system, women athletes will be discouraged, and their hard work might not be recognized due to the participation of transgender athletes. Trans woman athletes, no matter how hard they worked, will never be truly honored for their wins. Honor is the goal that all athletes aspire to attain, but this is a situation where nobody will be honored. I think that shouldn’t happen.

 Na Hwa Rin

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Na Hwa Rin turned down the opportunity to compete at a higher level, National Sports Festival, in order to minimize the controversy surrounding her.

I don’t want to make an issue to the point where I harm other people.

 Na Hwa Rin


Source: Toronto Sun and Korea Times