The Olympian Who Gave Up His Dream To Transition

New IOC regulations mean trans athletes like Balian Buschbaum can compete as their authentic selves.

As the book closes on another Summer Games, we’re looking at the stories of LGBT Olympians past and present. Some blazed a trail in both representation and athletic accomplishment, while others had to give up their dreams to live their truth.

German track-and-field star Balian Buschbaum competed in the 2000 Games in Sydney as a female pole vaulter—his personal best 4.70 meters, or about 15.42 feet, was a national record for many years and is still among the country’s top scores.

DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - JULY 22:  Balian Buschbaum and Sarah Latton attend the New Faces Award Fashion 2013 at Rheinterrasse on July 22, 2013 in Duesseldorf, Germany.  (Photo by Mathis Wienand/Getty Images)
Mathis Wienand/Getty Images

But in 2007, Buschbaum announced he was retiring from the sport, due to a persistent injury and a desire to begin transitioning.

In his memoir, Blue Eyes Remain Blue Eyes, Buschbaum revealed the name “Balian” was inspired by Orlando Bloom’s character in the film Kingdom of Heaven. Today he is a coach, nutritionist and trainer, and appeared in the German version of Dancing with the Stars in 2013.

COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 31:  Balian Buschbaum and Sarah Latton attend the Let's Dance Final at Coloneum on May 31, 2013 in Cologne, Germany.  (Photo by Mathis Wienand/Getty Images)
Mathis Wienand/Getty Images

“Personality development is the main focus of my work,” he explains. “[I teach people] to be more assertive…in professional or private development.”

It wasn’t until this year that the International Olympic Committee updated its guidelines to allow trans athletes to compete as their authentic selves.

Previously, athletes who transitioned were required to have surgery, followed by at least two years of hormone therapy.

The new protocol allows trans men to compete “without restrictions.” (Trans women can compete without undergoing gender confirmation surgery, so long as they have been on hormone therapy for one year.)

COLOGNE, GERMANY - APRIL 26:  Balian Buschbaum attends the 4th Show of Let's Dance on April 26, 2013 in Cologne, Germany.  (Photo by Mathis Wienand/Getty Images)
Mathis Wienand/Getty Images

“I don’t think many federations have rules on defining eligibility of transgender individuals,” IOC medical director Dr Richard Budgett said. “This should give them the confidence and stimulus to put these rules in place.”

The change opens the door for top athletes like Buschbaum to continue their Olympic dreams without forestalling transitioning. But the IOC guidelines are only that—guidelines. It still falls to individual sports to adopt trans-inclusive regulations.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 05:  Athletes and artists are seen during The 2016 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“It is necessary to ensure as much as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition,” the IOC said in statement earlier this year. “The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery