Hubbard, who won two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, will be the first transgender athlete to participate in the global sporting event.
Content Warning: Transphobia
After qualifying for the rescheduled Tokyo Games as a result of a rule change, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is poised to become the world's first transgender Olympian, a landmark victory for transgender and non-binary folks in the field of sport. Hubbard will be the first transgender athlete to participate in the highly competitive Olympics after she was effectively guaranteed a spot in the women's super heavyweight category. Her participation was made possible when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved an amendment to the rules as the ongoing pandemic forced the cancelation of many qualifying competitions, CNN reports. Although these should not be the grounds on which transgender athletes qualify to compete at the Olympics, Hubbard's participation will hopefully set a precedent for others who follow her.
The news was made public in a report by the website Inside the Games, an Olympics-focused trade publication. Despite the report, Hubbard is yet to officially be named to the national women's weightlifting team going to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Prior to transitioning in 2013, she competed in men's weightlifting competitions. She has been eligible to participate in the Olympics since 2015 due to a change in the IOC's guidelines. At the time, the committee announced that any transgender athlete would be allowed to compete in the global sporting event as a woman, given that their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months ahead of their first competition.
Now, Hubbard's participation in the weightlifting segment of the upcoming Olympics is expected to attract major attention from news and other media outlets as the sport has been at the center of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women's sports. Many also expect to receive harsh criticism from fellow lifters and coaches who are under the false impression that Hubbard's participation would be "unfair."
For instance, the weightlifter's two gold-medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa caused major outrage across the island nation. During the Pacific Games, Hubbard topped the podium ahead of Samoa's Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers. Just a year earlier, in 2018, Australia's weightlifting federation attempted to prohibit her from participating in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Thankfully, the organizers of the event blocked the move. Meanwhile, Hubbard has received support from an unlikely ally: USA Weightlifting. The governing body claimed it had no issues with Hubbard competing in the Games.
Spokesman Kevin Farley said in a statement to news outlet Reuters, "We respect the rules established by the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Olympic Committee for qualification and will be focusing on assisting our athletes to compete against all those who are qualified for the Tokyo Games." Aged 43, Hubbard began weightlifting at a young age. In 1998, the New Zealand weightlifter set junior records in the newly-established M105+ division with snatch 135 kilograms, clean and jerk 170 kilograms, and a total of 300 kilograms. Most recently, she won the gold medal in the women's +87 kg event at the Roma 2020 World Cup in Rome, Italy.