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Former Universiade star makes strides in academics

Student. Athlete. Olympian. Academic. Universiade gold medallist. These are just some of the words that could be used to describe Madeleine Pape, but she is much more than just the sum of these parts.


A former track athlete from Australia, who represented her country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Madeleine Pape is a Ph.D candidate in Sociology at Madison, University of Wisconsin. Her academic work and research explores the intersections of gender, sports governance and sports science, and she has tasted great success both as an athlete and as an academic. She credits her years as a university athlete for this.


“It’s funny, because I didn’t go to Madison to study either gender or sport,” she tells FISU’s Torin Koos. “I had gone there to study environment and sustainability. But when I started to take some feminist theory courses and read the material that had been written about gender and sport, it was so easy to be interested in that and to want to contribute to that. Sport is always going to be a part of my life, it’s the core part of my identity. But to be able to combine sports and academics is magic.”


She’s been combining the two since her undergraduate days at RMIT in Melbourne. “I was really lucky that I had a very understanding faculty at RMIT,” she says. “They were really supportive and understanding and made it possible for me to travel to Europe etc. to compete at international level.”


Being a competitive athlete wasn’t always the plan, but the turning point came with the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, her city. She was already running by then, but was injured at the time of the CWG. “I remember sitting in the stands, injured,” she reminisces. “I was watching the women competing for Australia in the 800m and I was thinking to myself that I was as good an athlete as them. I realised I too, could do that.”


From then on there was no looking back for Madeleine as she set her personal best time of 1:59.92, by winning the women’s 800 metres at the 2008 Sydney Athletics Grand Prix. She then reached the zenith of an athlete’s career when she competed at the Beijing Olympics. Although she didn’t advance to the semifinals there, little did she know she was about to hit her peak. What followed soon after was an 800m gold medal the Belgrade 2009 Summer Universaide in Serbia, where she finished with a time of 2:01.91. 


“The Belgrade Universiade fell bang in between the Beijing Olympics and the Berlin World Championships,” she remembers fondly. “I remember it as a really positive experience. I was feeling very good physically and was also very calm, especially on the day of the final. There was a really good vibe in the athletes’ village.


“I had a really good team atmosphere and strategy for the final that I felt really comfortable about. I felt like it all sort of came together, everything really clicked in the final and I was able to execute the kind of race that I had planned. It was also perfect timing in a lot of ways, because we used it as a final event to prepare for the world championships.”


Unfortunately due to an old injury flaring up again, the world championships in Berlin didn’t quite go according to plan. But there was a silver lining; in fact a turn of events that would shape the next phase of her life.


“Caster Semenya was competing in this race,” she speaks of the World Championships. “And this was when the controversy first broke around her right to compete with women. At the time, I must say I was very ignorant about the complexities of this topic. But then I went through a personal journey of sorts. I went onto grad school to study sociology and as it turns out, now my career is very much influenced by that moment in my running career.”


According to her, over the years, she was exposed to different ways of thinking about the issue and she met many informed people who challenged her views and had a better understanding, by her own admission. She has come a long way from an athlete who was against women with high testosterone participating, to someone who stood as a witness in support of Semenya challenging the rules, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.


Madeleine’s professional and academic work is important, because it can and will have an impact on the regulations regarding sex, gender and hyperandrogegism in sport. She also focuses on the IOC’s eligibility rules governing the participation of transgender and intersex women in Olympic sports.


In a way, Madeleine Pape embodies the spirit and philosophy of FISU. She lives in and celebrates a world where university sports experiences create a positive and long lasting impact on professional success.


“For me, my success in sports and my success in academics depended on each other. I needed both to be successful. Sports helped me to be a better student and do a better job,” she concludes. “I think it’s important to recognise that you can be successful in both areas and it leads to a really fulfilling life as an athlete and as a student.”





Source: FISU

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