Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to become first transgender athlete in Olympic history

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Laurel Hubbard practices on Saturday in Tokyo (AP)
Laurel Hubbard practices on Saturday in Tokyo (AP)

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will take her place in Olympic history by becoming the first transgender athlete to compete at the games on Monday.

The New Zealander’s qualification has proved controversial, with some critics, including Piers Morgan, suggesting the 43-year-old has an inevitable hormonal advantage having gone through male puberty before transitioning in 2012.

She will compete in the women’s 87kg weightlifting at the Tokyo International Forum against Team GB’s Emily Campbell.

Campbell has backed the New Zealander’s right to compete saying: “She (Hubbard) is a human being and she has qualified for this competition fairly like everyone else has, following rules that we all have to abide by.

“My performance will give me the place I achieve on the day. You have to be a great sportsman in this game, you have to perform in the way you can and give everyone equal respect.

“Obviously there will be a lot of distractions but you’ve got to keep your head in the game. The only person’s performance I can control is my own, so I have to make sure I’m completely in control of that.”

Hubbard herself said she was “grateful and humbled” by the support she was given when she was announced in the six-woman New Zealand Olympic weightlifting team.

She added: “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your ‘aroha’ [love] carried me through the darkness.

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

Laurel Hubbard arrives for practice on Saturday in Tokyo (AP)
Laurel Hubbard arrives for practice on Saturday in Tokyo (AP)

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at the Olympics since 2015 when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Many scientists have criticised these guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Others noted the vast majority of females, including elite athletes, have a testosterone range of 0.12-1.78 nmol/L.

Belgium’s Anna Van Bellinghen, who will likely compete against Hubbard, said the New Zealander’s presence in Tokyo would be “like a bad joke” for other competitors.

Hubbard, the daughter of a former mayor of Auckland, set national records in junior competition under her given name before undergoing hormone therapy and coming out as trans aged 35.

Since then, she has won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, broke her arm at the Commonwealth Games before returning in style to claim gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.

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