New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has become the first openly transgender athlete selected for the Olympics. Hubbard, 43, had participated in the men’s category as Gavin before coming out in 2013. She will compete in the women’s 87-kilogram class in Tokyo.
Who is Hubbard –
Is a New Zealand weightlifter, who transitioned to female in 2012, is among the top-rated athletes in the world in her category. She owns a silver (2017 World Championships) and a gold medal (2019 Pacific Games). The 43-year-old has an opportunity to win a medal in Tokyo as the rules of International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) state there should be only one player per category from each country.
Eligible: How did Hubbard become eligible to compete?
Hubbard became eligible to compete when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2015 changed its rules. The new rules allowed transgender athletes to compete as a woman if their testosterone levels are below a certain level. Notably, ‘testosterone’ is a hormone that increases muscle mass. Several officials have rooted for Hubbard’s inclusion at the Games despite the argument that she has un unfair advantage.
Although Hubbard’s participation is being celebrated, critics argue that it is still unfair for female-born athletes. They believe Hubbard will have a biological advantage, such as increased bone and muscle density. Recently, Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who is competing in the same category, said that the inclusion of Hubbard would be unfair for women and is “like a bad joke”.
Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as bone and muscle density.
Brushing aside the criticism, the Government of New Zealand and the country’s top sporting body have backed Hubbard’s inclusion for the upcoming Olympics. “As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria, including those based on IOC Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes,” New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said.
In 2017, Hubbard became the first trans woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand. Although Hubbard met eligibility requirements to compete, her win sparked a controversy. Several competitors claimed the competition was unfair. A year later, Australia’s weightlifting federation tried to ban Hubbard in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. However, she had to withdraw from the competition due to an injury.
In a rare recent media interview, Hubbard spoke about dealing with all the criticism, saying keeping her focus on the sport is what helps her ride through it. “I’m mindful I won’t be supported by everyone but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context,” Hubbard said.