NZ weightlifter is first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

NZ weightlifter is first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics
(Image: Getty/Alex Paniling)

The 29th Summer Olympics will witness history when it takes place in Tokyo next month.

Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after her selection by New Zealand for the women’s weightlifting event at the Tokyo spectacle, Reuters reports.

Following changes set forth by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) last May to the competition’s qualifying requirements to accommodate athletes impacted by the pandemic, Hubbard is now eligible to compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kilogram category, an event in which she is currently ranked 16th internationally. 

New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) chief Kereyn Smith has also confirmed that Hubbard’s testosterone levels are now below the threshold of 10 nanomoles per liter, a criterion set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) back in 2015. Hubbard has met this criterion since it was implemented.

Hubbard, who will also be the oldest lifter at the Olympics at 43, had previously competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013. 

Hubbard’s imminent participation in the Olympics has so far been met with criticisms, some coming from fellow weightlifters as well as former New Zealand athlete Tracey Lambrechs who contended in the same sport. Belgian weightlifter Anna Van Bellinghen, who competed alongside Hubbard in the Roma 2020 World Cup, has said on record that allowing the Kiwi athlete to compete in the women’s event is unfair and that the situation is “like a bad joke“.

(Image: Getty/Scott Barbour)

Some scientists have also said that the IOC’s guidelines on the participation of trans athletes hardly level the playing field, as those who have gone through puberty as males still manifest the biological advantages even after their transition. Gender advocates, however, argue that the inclusion guidelines still significantly even the odds by mitigating those advantages, and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never really a level playing field even among exclusively male or female sporting events.

Nonetheless, Hubbard remains humbled by the support she’s received and remains hopeful of her Olympics tilt. 

“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 released by the NZOC on Monday.

“We do know that there are many questions about fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria,” NZOC’s Smith also said.

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics is scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8, 2021.


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