Watch: New Zealand weightlifter becomes first transgender athlete picked for Olympic Games
New Zealander weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics.
The 43-year-old, who will be the oldest weightlifter at the Tokyo Games, will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after her selection was made possible by updated qualifying requirements.
Hubbard had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.
She won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. She competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but sustained a serious injury that set back her career.
"I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said.
"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 (love) carried me through the darkness.
Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics 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.
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.
The New Zealand government offered its support to Hubbard, with minister for sport and recreation, 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,"
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard's selection, writing in a statement: "It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category.”
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.
Samoa's weightlifting boss said Hubbard's selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes "dope" and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and "like a bad joke".
Australia's weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.
Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had "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.
Another transgender athlete, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe, will travel to Tokyo as part of the United States team, but is named as an alternate and not assured of competing.
Canadian women's soccer player Quinn, who came out as transgender last year and uses only one name, is also a chance to be selected for the Olympics, five years after winning bronze with the women's team at the 2016 Rio Games.
Additional reporting by AP.
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