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Trans Weightlifter Makes History at Games

Laurel Hubbard's participation has been controversial
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2021 10:00 AM CDT
This Olympic Lift Was Both Historic and Controversial
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand celebrates after a lift in the women's 87kg weightlifting event.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(Newser) – A New Zealand weightlifter named Laurel Hubbard will not leave the Tokyo Olympics with a medal. However, her very participation has earned Hubbard the unwanted distinction of being one of its most controversial athletes. Why? She's a transgender woman. Coverage:

  • In Monday's competition, the 43-year-old Hubbard failed to advance in the over-87-kilogram division, her only event, reports the AP. Hubbard failed to lift her barbell cleanly on any of her three attempts. Still, those lifts marked the first time an openly trans woman has competed in any Olympics, reports Ina Fried of Axios. Hubbard made a heart gesture to the audience before exiting.
  • "Of course, I'm not entirely unaware of the controversy which surrounds my participation in these Games," she said afterward. "And, as such, I'd particularly like to thank the [International Olympic Committee], for, I think, really affirming their commitment to the principles of Olympism, and establishing that sport is something for all people. It is inclusive. It is accessible."

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  • Hubbard competed in men's events before retiring more than a decade ago, reports the New York Times. She transitioned to female in 2012. Critics say she has an unfair advantage over her female competitors, though Hubbard had one clear disadvantage on Monday. She is well past the age of elite weightlifters, and Yahoo Sports notes that all but one of her competitors were still in their 20s.
  • The IOC acknowledges that it's still wrestling with how to accommodate trans athletes, and it plans to issue new guidance in the coming months, reports the Guardian. Each sport may have to find its own "sweet spot" in regard to inclusion and fairness, says the IOC's medical and science chief, Dr. Richard Budgett.
  • Hubbard isn't the only trans athlete at these games. Chelsea Wolfe, a trans woman, is an alternate for Team USA in BMX freestyle, notes Axios. The Games also includes nonbinary athletes, and the next Games will likely feature even more. "I have been wondering which one of us is going to break through that wall and forge that path," Wolfe tells Fried. "And the fact it's not just one person and that it's a whole bunch of us ... that really just reflects the diversity within the community that exists."
  • For journalist Fried, Hubbard's historic participation has a special resonance. "I feel tremendously privileged to be here for this moment, in part because if I weren't here, I'm not sure that—despite the crush of press —there would be another transgender reporter here," she says, per the Axios newsletter.
(Read more transgender stories.)

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