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New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is slated to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after qualifying for the upcoming Tokyo Games, which were postponed a year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Hubbard qualified for the games in the women’s super heavyweight division, due to a rule change passed regarding the qualification system, which originally required athletes to participate in six events across three six-month-long phases, with the best result from each phase, plus the best remaining result, being used to qualify. By competing, athletes also offered themselves up for testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rule was changed so athletes only needed to post one event from phase one (back in 2018), one from phase two, and any two other performances during the qualification window, according to Inside the Games. The deadline for qualification is July 5.
Under current International Olympic Committee rules, a transgender athlete may compete as a woman, provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition. Hubbard already met that particular eligibility criteria, but there was still uncertainty over whether she’d have the requisite number of qualifying performances due to the cancellation of many different competitions.
Now, having qualified, the 43-year-old Hubbard will be the oldest weightlifter at the Tokyo Games later this year. Just about two years ago, she sustained an injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia that could have potentially ended her career.
But she rebounded, winning gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa — although her victory over Feagaiga Stowers, Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion, sparked outrage among Samoans and among opponents of transgender participation in female-designated sports. She also placed sixth at the last IWF World Championships that year.
Hubbard’s best total in qualifying is 285 kilograms, which could place her among a small group of athletes who might potentially win a medal. She is currently ranked 16th overall, but six athletes ranked above her — four from China and two from South Korea — will be absent, due to a rule limiting each nation to one athlete per category.
Additionally, a North Korean athlete ranked above her will not compete due to North Korea refusing to participate in the Olympic Games, and a Russian athlete ranked above her is currently suspended.
In a 2017 interview, Hubbard noted that the rules enabling her to compete as a transgender woman first went into effect in 2003.
“They are known as the Stockholm consensus with the IOC but I think even 10 years ago the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself — and perhaps it is not ready now,” she said at the time. “But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions and it seemed like the right time to put the boots on and hit the platform.”
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