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Coroner's report says Stella Walsh 'lived and died' a woman

CLEVELAND -- Cuyahoga County Coroner Samuel Gerber said in a report Wednesday that former Olympic Gold Medalist Stella Walsh was the victim of a rare genetic disorder, but 'lived and died a female.'

Gerber's report said extensive laboratory tests determined that Walsh, who was shot and killed by an unknown assailant last Dec. 4, had only non-functional male sex organs but had both male and female chromosomes.

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'Socially, culturally and legally, Stella Walsh was accepted as a female for 69 years. She lived and died a female,' wrote Gerber, who was not available for comment.

Gerber said it would have been extremely difficult at birth to determine Walsh's sex and she could have been raised either a man or a woman.

The coroner said the disorder she suffered from -- mosaicism -- would be treated far differently today.

'The sex of this infant would be ambiguous at the time of its birth,' he wrote. 'The baby would then be brought to the attention of experts in the field of genetics, endocrinology and corrective surgery.

'Very soon then ... a decision would be made as to whether this child should be raised as a male or female. Then reconstructive surgery would be performed. For all social purposes, this child would appear and lead the life of an individual of the chosen sex.'

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Gerber said such surgery was not available until the 1940s.

The issue was raised by television station WKYC a few days after Walsh was killed and it caused an uproar in the local Polish community. Some groups even threatened legal action but no suits have been filed yet.

Walsh married Harry Olsen in 1956 in California so she could claim a spot on the U.S. Olympic team -- which had been denied her because of her Polish nationality -- but by that time her career was finished. The marriage only lasted two months.

Olsen said he always thought of her as a woman.

'I feel stupid as hell for marrying her,' he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 'It's really strange. I guess she was a freak of nature. I'm very shook up about all this.' He also told the Plain Dealer they had sex a few times but with the lights out.

Beverly Perret Conyers, a friend of Walsh's who lives in Rome, Ohio, said Walsh discussed the issue with her once, without going into detail.

'She asked me if God did this to her,' said Conyers. 'I said no, it was a mistake.'

She said Walsh was troubled by her biological problems and shied away from changing in locker rooms, but never felt any qualms about competing as a woman in track meets.

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