Transgender weightlifter Hubbard selected for Tokyo Olympics
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Laurel Hubbard weighed 628 pounds (185 kilograms) in two lifts en route to qualify in the women’s super heavyweight division for the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s heavy. But that’s a far cry from the figurative weight Hubbard carried to become the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics.
Hubbard was among five weightlifters confirmed on Monday’s New Zealand squad for Tokyo. At 43, she will also be the oldest weightlifter at the games and will be placed fourth in the competition on August 2 for women 87 kilograms (192 pounds) and over.
Hubbard won silver at the 2017 World Championships and gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. She competed in the 2018 Commonwealth Games but suffered a serious injury that delayed her career.
“I am grateful and touched by the kindness and support given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was told my athletic career was probably over. But your support, encouragement, and aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.
“The past eighteen months have shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community and in working together towards a common goal. The mana of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride. “
The added burden Hubbard had to carry was that her efforts made her a flashpoint in the debate over fairness for trans athletes competing in women’s events. She faced anger, contempt and ridicule, and was directly criticized by some opponents.
Competing as Gavin Hubbard, his birth name, Hubbard set national records in junior competition and achieved a combined total of 300 kilograms (661 pounds) in the snatch and clean and jerk.
Hubbard made his transition eight years ago at the age of 35. She has since met all the requirements of the International Olympic Committee rules for trans athletes and fair competition.
IOC policy specifies the conditions under which those who pass from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category.
Among them, the athlete said her gender identity is female and the statement cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for at least four years.
The athlete must also demonstrate that their total testosterone level is below a specific measurement for at least 12 months prior to their first competition.
Hubbard has adhered to these standards.
The IOC’s policy also states: “the primary sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition”.
Yet some within the weightlifting community argue that the policy does not guarantee fair competition. The defining criterion – a maximum reading of 10 nanomoles per liter of testosterone – is at least five times more than a biological woman.
Belgium’s Anna Vanbellinghen, who will likely face Hubbard, said the New Zealander’s presence would be “like a bad joke” for the competitors.
“I am aware that defining a legal framework for the participation of transgender people in sport is very difficult because there is an endless variety of situations and it is probably impossible to reach a fully satisfactory solution, on both sides of the debate “said Vanbellinghen. “However, anyone who has coached weightlifting to a high level knows that this is true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair for the sport and for the athletes.
“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifiers – and we are helpless. Of course, this debate takes place in a larger context of discrimination against transgender people and that is why the issue is never devoid of ideology.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by other athletes and weightlifting officials, who claim that Hubbard has a natural advantage in physiology and strength.
But New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said it was clear Hubbard had met all the criteria to compete in Tokyo.
“We recognize that gender identity in sport is a very sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the playing field,” said Smith. “As a team from New Zealand we have a strong culture of manaaki (hospitality) and inclusion and respect for all.
“We are committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes and ensuring their mental and physical well-being, as well as their high performance needs, while preparing for and participating in the Olympic Games.”
Hubbard, whose father is a wealthy grain maker turned mayor of New Zealand’s largest city, rarely grants media interviews.
In 2017, she explained her approach to the criticisms she faces on sports and moral grounds to New Zealand news site Stuff.
“All you can do is focus on the task at hand and if you keep doing it that will allow you to be successful,” Hubbard told Stuff. “I am aware that I will not be supported by everyone but I hope people can keep an open mind and maybe look at my performance in a bigger context.
“Maybe the fact that it took someone like me so long to get over this indicates that some of the issues people are suggesting are not what they might seem.”
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