TOKYO, JAPAN – Previous reports that a New Zealand transgendered weightlifter was attempting to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics initially raised some eyes, as LGBTQ supporters and opponents butted heads over one basic question- would it be fair for someone who has transitioned from male to female later in life to compete athletically with biological women?
Laurel Hubbard, 43, will now put that question to the test, as she has officially qualified to compete in Tokyo, and will become the first transgendered Olympic athlete in history.
Hubbard, who had previously competed in men’s weightlifting events before transitioning to female eight years ago, reportedly lifted 628 pounds in two lifts to qualify in the women’s super-heavyweight division.
“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said.
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Hubbard has earned a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and a gold medal in the 2019 Pacific Games. In 2018 she sustained a serious elbow injury at the Commonwealth Games that at the time was thought to be career-ending, but she eventually recovered.
Hubbard’s inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo games is a major victory for LGBTQ advocates, but some of her potential fellow candidates are crying foul over the alleged physical advantages that Hubbard will be bringing with her to the competition in August.
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee amended its rules to allow transgendered athletes to compete as long as they maintained a maximum testosterone level of 10 nanomoles per liter for a year, which is still five times more than the average biological woman possesses. In addition, male-to-female transgendered athletes are also still allowed to retain their testes, according to reports.
Some studies, however, indicate that maintaining lowered testosterone levels is an oversimplified way of establishing a level playing field in competitive sports, and that there are certain biological advantages – in Hubbard’s case, strength and power – that will always be retained to some degree by a transgendered athlete once they have gone through puberty. Anna Vanbellinghen of Belgium, who is slated to compete against Hubbard, said that the New Zealander’s inclusion at the Olympics renders biological women “powerless,” but stated that more debate was needed on the issue.
“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless,” Vanbellinghen said. “Of course, this debate is taking place in a broader context of discrimination against transgender people and that is why the question is never free of ideology.”