No, this runner didn’t win the US 800-metres championship while pregnant, but she did participate

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Runner Alysia Montano has won the US national championship 800-metres race six times. She also participated in the race twice while pregnant. But contrary to a rumor currently circulating online, she didn’t win the race while pregnant. Instead, she competed in an attempt to dispel stereotypes about pregnant athletes and finished last.

This photo of US athlete Alysia Montano participating in a race while several months pregnant has been circulating online for a few days. The caption alongside the photo claims that the image shows Montano winning the race at the US national championships.

The rumour started circulating in early August on several Twitter accounts based in Ghana.

"US athlete, Alysia Montana [sic] who is five months pregnant, won the 800 metres at the US nationals," says a Tweet posted on August 7 that has already garnered more than half a million likes and around 50,000 retweets. It has also been shared widely on Instagram and on Facebook.

The image is indeed authentic, but dated. The claims made in the caption, however, are false. The photo is actually from 2014. It shows the athlete participating in the 800-metre race at the US nationals, which she has won several times in the past. In 2014, however, when she competed while pregnant, Montano finished last.

Our journalists carried out a reverse image search to uncover the original context of the video (click here to find out how). The search brought up several articles featuring the photo, which was taken by an AP photographer in June 2014. "Awe-inspiring pregnant woman runs 800-meter race at U.S. championships", reads the title of one article, published on Buzzfeed.

The caption of the photo says: "Alysia Montano, left, competes in the quarterfinals of the 800 meters in the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday". The article explains that she was eight and a half months pregnant when she participated and she finished last in the race.

Montano did it again in 2017, when she was five months pregnant with her second child. Again, she finished last but she had a better time than in 2014 (2 minutes and 21 seconds, versus 2:32).

So the information circulating online alongside the photo is partially false. Montano did indeed run the 800-metres race at the US championships while she was pregnant. And although she had won the race in the past, she didn’t win while pregnant.

Championing elite athletes who want to be mothers

Alysia Montano won the US championship six times, including in 2015, just after her first pregnancy. She also competed at the 2015 Beijing world championships when she was still nursing.

Montano said that she participated in the championship races in 2014 and 2017 when she was pregnant to change stereotypes about pregnancy. She said that athletes who want to become mothers often suffer in their careers. When she was pregnant with her first child, Montano was dropped by her sponsor, Nike, who “paused” her contract. She says that sponsors, as well as the US Olympic Committee, treat pregnancy almost like an illness even though athletes can quickly return to their pre-pregnancy levels of physical fitness. Montano told The New York Times about her struggle in 2019.

Shortly after this article was published and after a Congressional investigation into the matter, Nike announced that it had changed its policy towards pregnant athletes.

'With specially adapted training during your pregnancy, you can come back even stronger than before'

More and more people in the US and France are starting to talk about the issue of pregnancy amongst high-level athletes. Since 2015, female athletes in France have been able to remain on the list of high-level athletes for a year after announcing their pregnancy, which allows them to continue having access to insurance and also return to their sport in the best condition possible.

Carole Maître is a gynecologist at INSEP (the French National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance). She has worked with several high-level athletes who wanted to become mothers. She says that pregnancy needn't put the breaks on an athlete’s career:

If you continue to train during your pregnancy, following a specially adapted programme, then you have every possibility of achieving the same high level of performance six to ten months after you give birth. You can come back even stronger than before.

But is it possible to practice a high-level sport that far along in a pregnancy without risk? Some comments on the viral (and erroneous) Twitter post about Montano expressed concern for the health of the baby.

Maître says that, three months into a pregnancy, an athlete should not continue to exercise at the same intensity as before.

You shouldn’t be looking to win while pregnant. It’s not recommended to do really intense physical activity while pregnant. You shouldn’t go over 85 percent of your maximum heart rate or you risk reducing the oxygen that goes to the fetus.

Maître doesn’t think that Montano’s two races, which she finished at much slower times than usual, posed any danger to her child.

The exertion was short in length and she was much slower than usual. She also probably got an OK from her doctor and took part in special training in order to be able to run this race.

Montano did indeed get a consult with her doctor before taking part in the championships. And she had no problem with her pregnancies.

Montano also wanted to encourage other athletes to keep up their sports while pregnant. Maître says she supports this fully:

It is important to combat these stereotypes. She’s a model for all pregnant women, some of whom are too afraid to do any sports, even jogging for example. But it is good for pregnant women to keep up physical activity, both for the mother and child. According to studies, that provides more oxygen flow, limits the risk of gaining too much weight and allows for better learning ability after the birth.

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