Olympic champion Ellia Green comes out as transgender, advocates for inclusion

Ellia Green
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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Ellia Green realized as a young child — long before becoming an Olympic champion — that a person’s identity and a gender assigned at birth can be very different things.

Now, about 20 years later, one of the stars of Australia’s gold medal-winning women’s rugby sevens team at the 2016 Olympics has transitioned to male.

Green, who has kept the same name, told The Associated Press it was the best decision of his life. Realizing that sharing his experience could be lifesaving for others is what compelled Green to go public in a video to be shown Tuesday to participants at an international summit on ending transphobia and homophobia in sport. The summit is being hosted in Ottawa as part of the Bingham Cup rugby tournament.

The only other transgender or gender diverse Olympic gold medalists are Caitlyn Jenner and Quinn, who goes by one name and was part of Canada’s winning women’s soccer team in Tokyo last year.

Seeing so few trans athletes at the elite level and so much negative commentary on social media, particularly since World Rugby’s decision to bar transgender women from playing women’s rugby, hastened Green’s push to highlight the harm those things can cause some children.

Most importantly, it’s an attempt to draw attention to a serious health issue — some studies say more than 40% of trans youth had considered attempting suicide.

The 29-year-old Green has admitted to being in a “dark place” after retiring from rugby at the end of 2021.

“This is what happened to me,” Green told The AP. “Pretty much my rugby career ended and I had been in and out of mental health facilities for serious issues. My depression hit a new level of sadness.”

He’s in a much better place now with his partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, and their infant daughter, Waitui.

“Vanessa was pregnant and having to come to hospital to visit,” Green said. “I was having bad episodes. That’s the last time I want her to have to see me like that. But the only way to help heal is to talk about it . . . I’d like to help someone not feel so isolated by telling my story.”

The story has been a difficult one at times. Green, who was assigned female at birth, was adopted by Yolanta and Evan Green and moved to Australia from Fiji at age 3. Recalling later childhood memories of domestic violence, seeing Yolanta being abused in another relationship, Green said “caused a lot of long-lasting trauma.”

“I guess from witnessing that, I knew from an early age that was not (the kind of) relationship I wanted to have, but it shaped me to know how a woman should be treated,” Green said. “I do believe that even through traumatic circumstances there was a lot to learn from it.”

It was also a childhood that for Green was marked by an overwhelming realization.

“As a kid I remember I thought I was a boy in public, I had a short (haircut) and whenever we met new people they thought I was a boy,” Green says. “I always used to wear my brother’s clothes, played with tools, and ran around with no shirt on. Until I grew breasts, and I thought ‘oh no’.”

“My mom would dress me in girlie outfits . . . I always wanted to make her happy, so if she wanted me to wear a dress, I wore a dress.”

Yolanta also helped channel Green into sports, and excellence as a sprinter in track and field eventually led to a professional career in rugby. The all-action seven-a-side form of rugby made its Olympic debut at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and the women’s competition was held first, with Australia beating New Zealand in the final to win the inaugural gold medal. Green, a flying winger, was among the stars of the show.

All the while, though, the deeper feelings were becoming clearer for Green and really peaked after announcing the decision to retire from rugby last November, a few months after missing selection for the Australian women’s team for the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

“I spent a lot of time after I finished up my career with Australian rugby just in the house, in a dark room, I didn’t have the confidence to see anyone,” Green says in the video pre-recorded for the summit.

“I was ashamed of myself, I felt I had let a lot of people down, especially myself and my mom. I felt like a complete failure, it was heartbreaking,” Green added, explaining the feelings that lingered after being left off the Olympic team. “The one thing that did keep me positive is that I had already planned my surgery and treatment towards my transition. It was something I was counting down the days with my partner.”

Now Green wants to advocate for others, emphasizing the harm that can be caused when sporting bans are introduced and how those policies can amplify negativity toward trans and gender diverse people.

“Banning transgender people from sport is disgraceful and hurtful,” Green says. “It only means the rates of suicide and mental health issues will get even worse.”

Green’s comments coincide with the release of a study by the University of British Columbia in Canada and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia which shows a disconnect between rugby’s leaders and the women who play rugby. The survey shows that while about 30% of women think trans women have an unfair advantage they overwhelmingly do not support banning trans athletes from rugby.

Playing rugby at any level, or even coaching, is not on Green’s radar for now. He’s currently working at the Sydney International Container Terminal — “on the wharves,” he says, — but is also studying for a university degree in international security and has ambitions to be advising companies on general and cyber security.

For now, Green says he’s a “full-time daddy, and it’s hard, maybe harder” than anything he’s done. He also credits partner Vanessa, who has a law degree and is now doing her doctorate — “she’s inspired me every single day.”

Green hopes his story will inspire other trans people to be confident in their decisions about who they want to be.

“I just knew it was going to be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery and to be in the body I knew I had to be,” Green says in the video. “That was a bright spark in my mind during these dark times facing demons, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

He adds in the AP telephone interview: “I knew something that would make me really happy is that, No. 1, I am going to live the rest of my life with my partner and my daughter. And that I am going to live the rest of my life as her dad.”

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.