New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard on verge of becoming first transgender Olympian

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09:  Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's 90kg Final during Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Laurel Hubbard could make history in Tokyo. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images) (Alex Pantling via Getty Images)

A revision in Olympic qualification standards has set the stage for New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, a transgender woman, to qualify for the Tokyo Games, the New Zealand Olympic Committee announced Thursday.

Hubbard would be the first transgender person to compete in the Olympics if she makes it.

Per Reuters, the NZOC said the International Weightlifting Federation had revised its qualifications due to the impact of COVID-19, opening the door for Hubbard to head to Tokyo.

"The NZOC can confirm that revised International Federation (IF) qualification systems are very likely to see a number of New Zealand weightlifters, including Commonwealth Games transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard, allocated an IF quota spot for Tokyo 2020," the NZOC said in a statement.

"A previous requirement to attend six competition events has been reduced to four due to the impact of COVID-19."

The 43-year-old Hubbard had previously competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013, per Reuters. She has reportedly been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing transgender athletes to compete as a woman as long as their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before competing.

The NZOC reportedly said it does not expect to formally nominate and select its weightlifting team until June.

Hubbard has been competing internationally for years, with a gold medal in the 2019 Pacific Games and a sixth-place finish at the 2019 World Championships in the +87 kg division. Per NBC Sports, she currently ranks 16th in the world in her weight class for Olympic qualifying, and holds the top spot in Oceania by a narrow margin.

Hubbard's career has predictably been divisive, with fans and rival nations decrying her presence in the sport. Her silver medal at the 2017 World Championships was preceded by a torrent of social media abuse, and a spot in the much more visible Olympics is basically guaranteed to fan the flames as transgender athletes become a hot-button issue in the United States and elsewhere.

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