Who is Laurel Hubbard, the first transgender Olympian?

Laurel Hubbard is poised to make history at the Olympics, regardless of how she fares in competition.

Hubbard, 43, will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, doing so as a weightlifter. The New Zealand native is viewed as a realistic medal contender, as she will be ranked fourth in the Aug. 2 over-87-kilogram super-heavyweights.

Hubbard began her sex change process nine years ago at the age of 35. When she identified and competed as a male, she set national weightlifting records in New Zealand’s junior competition, though she did not engage in international meets.

Hubbard won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, though she nearly saw her career come to an end after suffering a major arm injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Laurel Hubbard
Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender Olympian.
AP

One year later, Hubbard took home gold at the 2019 Pacific Games, cementing her comeback. Now, the Olympics beckon.

“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 in June. “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 (love) carried me through the darkness.”

The International Olympic Committee established a protocol for transgender athletes in 2015. The guidelines stipulated that transgender women may compete in the Olympics against other women so long as their testosterone levels are less than 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months leading up to the competition.

Laurel Hubbard
Hubbard is a medal contender in weightlifting.
AP

Though Hubbard meets the threshold, her inclusion in the Games is not without controversy. The 10 nanomolar mark is at least five times greater than the standard for biological women, which has irked Hubbard’s future competitors, such as Belgian weightlifter Anna Van Bellinghe.

“I fully support the transgender community and what I am going to say does not come from a rejection of the identity of this athlete,” Van Bellinghe said in June. “However, anyone who has trained in weightlifting knows that this situation is unfair for the sport and for the athletes.

“I understand that for sports authorities, nothing is as simple as following your common sense, and that there are a lot of impracticalities when studying such a rare phenomenon, but for athletes the whole thing feels like a bad joke. Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless.”

Per New Zealand Olympic Committee Chief Executive Kereyn Smith, Hubbard satisfied all the criteria and has endeared her to the country’s faithful.

“As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of manaaki (hospitality) and inclusion and respect for all,” Smith said. “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.”

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