Who is Laurel Hubbard? The transgender weightlifter from New Zealand making history in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have seen a number of transgender athletes compete for medals, like footballer Quinn and skateboarder Alana Smith
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Laurel Hubbard is a transgender athlete making history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as she prepares to compete in the 87kg weightlifting category.

She praised Olympic organisers ahead of her Olympic debut for allowing her to take part in the games.

This is what you need to know.

Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's 90kg Final during Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's 90kg Final during Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's 90kg Final during Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Who is Laurel Hubbard?

Laurel Hubbard is a professional weight lifter, and will be one of the first openly transgender athletes in the history of the games to compete at the Olympics.

Prior to her coming out as transgender, Hubbard previously competed in domestic men’s competitions, holding the national record holder as a junior, lifting a total of 300kg before she quit in 2001 at the age of 23.

Speaking about the decision, Hubbard said: “It just became too much to bear, the pressure of trying to fit into a world that perhaps wasn’t really set up for people like myself.”

Hubbard began her transition in 2012, and in 2017, 16 years after last competing, Hubbard made her return to the sport.

Taking part in the 2017 North Island Games, Hubbard set an Oceania record of 113kg, followed by picking up gold at the Australian championships.

In 2018, Hubbard suffered from a possible career ending injury after rupturing a ligament in her arm.

At the time, Hubbard said: “My arm is busted.

“It looks like it’s probably going to be a career ending injury, which is a real shame, but I’m glad I’ve gone out trying to achieve my best on the platform.”

However, successful treatment allowed Hubbard to continue progressing in the sport. In 2019, she would go on to collect two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, and is now competing at Tokyo 2020.

The weightlifter is ranked 7th in the IWF’s women’s +87kg division, and impressed at the Olympic qualifications by earning the fourth highest total.

At 43 years old, Hubbard is the third oldest lifter in Olympic history.

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What has Hubbard said about being on the Olympic team?

When news of her selection reached Hubbard, she said: “I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders

“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 carried me through the darkness.

“The last 18 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 from all of you and I will wear it with pride.”

Hubbard rarely gives media interviews, but ahead of her performance in the 87kg women’s category, she released a statement.

She said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”

What has the New Zealand team said about Hubbard?

NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith said that Hubbard would be welcomed to the New Zealand Team.

She said: “As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria including those based on IOC Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes. We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play.

“As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of manaaki and inclusion and respect for all. We are committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes and ensuring their mental and physical wellbeing, along with their high-performance needs, while preparing for and competing at the Olympic Games are met.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said that Hubbard had worked extremely hard to qualify for the Olympic Games.

He said: "Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform.

"Laurel is an astute student of the sport and technically very good with the lifts. We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations towards Tokyo.”

What have her fellow weightlifters said?

British weightlifter Emily Campbell has offered her support for Hubbard, stating that she “qualified for this competition fairly” and that everyone deserves “equal respect”.

Campbell said: “[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.”

What are the guidelines for transgender athletes?

In November 2015, the IOC published the IOC Consensus Meeting, which laid out the guidelines for transgender athletes.

Participants in the meeting included Prof Dr Uğur Erdener Chairman, IOC Medical & Scientific Commission, Prof Gerard Conway Professor of Clinical Medicine, University College London, and Dr Lars Engebretsen IOC Head of Scientific Activities.

The report said: “Since the 2003 Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sports, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of autonomy of gender identity in society, as reflected in the laws of many jurisdictions worldwide.”

The IOC Consensus Meeting agreed that transgender men are eligble to compete in the male categories “without restriction”.

For transgender women, the following conditions must be met:

The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.

The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition).

The athlete's total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.

Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.

The IOC Meeting also stated that if a transgender female athlete is “not eligible for female competition, the athlete should be eligible to compete in male competition”.

Are other transgender athletes competing in Tokyo 2020?

In 2021, the IOC approved a number of transgender athletes to compete in the games.

Alongside Hubbard, Canadian non-binary footballer player Quinn and Alana Smith, a non-binary skateboarder, also appeared in the 2020 games.

Quinn became the first transgender person to compete at the Olympics, and Smith represented the United States in the skateboarding semifinals.

Both Quin and Smith, who use they/them pronouns, have been repeatedly misgendered during the games.

Cyclist Chelsea Wolfe could also debut as an openly transgender athlete on the US team, but as a reserve BMX rider will only do so if one of the two existing qualifying members withdraws from the competition.

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