Transgender Weightlifter Makes History, Selected For Tokyo Olympics

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A New Zealand weightlifter—who has competed in men’s events in the past– will become the first transgender competitor to qualify to be on the country’s women’s weightlifting team for Tokyo 2020.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Laurel Hubbard, 43, said in a statement, according to the BBC.

It was back in 2015 when the International Olympic Committee changed its rules to allow transgender athletes to compete as long as their testosterone level is below a certain level and maintained for a year.

Hubbard, who transitioned eight years ago, is being criticzied as having an unfair advantage when she competes in the women’s super heavyweight category in August.

Hubbard lifted 628 pounds in two lifts to qualify in the women’s super-heavyweight division. She walked away with a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. Her career was set back when she suffered a serious back injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith said it’s clear Hubbard has met all the criteria to compete in Tokyo.

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

Belgium’s Anna Vanbellinghen, who will likely compete against Hubbard, thinks her presence would be “like a bad joke” for women competitors.

“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless. 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.”