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New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to become first openly transgender athlete to compete in Olympics

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Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has been chosen by the New Zealand Olympic Committee to compete at the Tokyo Games next month, making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics. 

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement via the Guardian. “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’ [affection] carried me through the darkness.

The 43-year-old Hubbard will be the fourth-oldest weightlifter at the Games. According to The Guardian she's considered a medal contender in her event, the women’s super heavyweight 87kg-plus. She competed in men's weightlifting before transitioning in 2013, and has competed in numerous international tournaments since. 

Hubbard's Olympic path

Two rule changes paved the way for Hubbard to become an Olympian. The first came in 2015, when the International Olympic Committee changed its guidelines regarding transgender athletes. Via Reuters:

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition.

The second happened in May, when the International Weightlifting Federation released its revised qualification system for the Olympics. To reflect the lack of opportunities athletes had to compete at events over the past year due to COVID-19, the number of events needed to qualify has been reduced from six to four.

Hubbard's selection to the New Zealand Olympic Team, as well as her career itself, has been controversial. While she has the full backing of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, the New Zealand government, and Weightlifting New Zealand, fair play advocates and other female weightlifters from New Zealand have argued that it's unfair for Hubbard to compete against other women. 

"We do know that there are many questions about fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria," New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said on Monday via Reuters. 

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will be the first openly trans athlete to compete in the Olympics. (REUTERS/Paul Childs)
New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will be the first openly trans athlete to compete in the Olympics. (REUTERS/Paul Childs)

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