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Hubbard to be first transgender athlete at Olympics

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to compete for New Zealand in the super-heavyweight category at Tokyo Olympics; she will become first transgender athlete to compete at the Games; “I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me,” Hubbard said

Last Updated: 21/06/21 4:04pm

Laurel Hubbard will compete in the women's super-heavyweight category

Laurel Hubbard will compete in the women’s super-heavyweight category

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight category, her selection made possible by updated qualifying requirements.

The 43-year-old, who will be the oldest lifter at the Games, had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions – although not at international level – before transitioning nearly 10 years ago.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympic Games since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Hubbard competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast

Hubbard competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

NZOC chief executive Kereyn Smith said Hubbard met IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation’s selection criteria.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said.

“As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of inclusion and respect for all.”

The New Zealand government offered its support, with deputy prime minister Grant Robertson saying: “Laurel is a member of New Zealand’s Olympic team.

“We are proud of her as we are of all our athletes, and will be supporting her all the way.”

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women.

New Zealand's deputy prime minister Grant Robertson backed Hubbard's selection

New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Grant Robertson backed Hubbard’s selection

Hubbard’s gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” said Hubbard on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your ‘aroha’ (affection) carried me through the darkness.

“The last 18 months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The ‘mana’ (honour) of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand president Richie Patterson said Hubbard had shown “grit and perseverance” to return from injury and rebuild her confidence.

“We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations towards Tokyo,” he said.

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