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First trans athlete will compete in Tokyo Olympics in weightlifting

Olympic Rings (Chris Downer)
June 21, 2021

A transgender weightlifter who transitioned from male to female will compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, making history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the global competition.

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was chosen to be one of five weightlifters for New Zealand’s team, and just three years after a broken arm almost ended the athlete’s career, will be the oldest weightlifter at the Tokyo Olympics, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

“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.

The transgender athlete’s selection comes amid debate regarding hormonal advantages in competitors who undergo male-to-female transitions.

According to New Zealand authorities, Hubbard meets International Olympic Committee standards for testosterone levels. The transwoman lifted 628 pounds in two different events to qualify for the Olympic team.

“We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations towards Tokyo,” said Richie Patterson, the head of Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, adding that Hubbard showed “grit and perseverance” in the wake of the 2018 injury, BBC News reported.

Some athletes have expressed concerns regarding Hubbard’s participation, including Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who will compete in the same division as the trans athlete.  

“First off, I would like to stress that I fully support the transgender community and that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of rejection of this athlete’s identity,” Vanbellinghen told Inside the Games in May.

“I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations, and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible,” she continued. “However, anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes.”

Vanbellinghen pointed out that developing as a male for more than two decades gives Hubbard an unfair advantage over biologically female competitors.

“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifications – and we are powerless. Of course, this debate is taking place in a broader context of discrimination against transgender people, and that is why the question is never free of ideology,” Vanbellinghen said.

“However, the extreme nature of this particular situation really demonstrates the need to set up a stricter legal framework for transgender inclusion in sports, and especially elite sports,” she continued. “Because I do believe that everyone should have access to sports, but not at the expense of others.”

Hubbard has previously asserted that being born male doesn’t give Hubbard an advantage over female competitors.

“Look, I’ve heard that and I think it’s incredibly disrespectful to the other competitors,” Hubbard said in 2017, according to Newshub. “I don’t believe there is any fundamental difference between me and the other athletes, and to suggest there is slightly demeaning to them.”

Prior to transitioning in 2013, Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions and has since dominated women’s competitions, setting four national weightlifting records in New Zealand at the 2017 Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne.