New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard made Olympic history today as the first trans woman to compete in the weightlifting event.  

The 43-year-old, who transitioned in 2012, is competing in the 87+kg category in Tokyo after the International Olympic Committee changed its rules to allow women to compete if their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold. 

She failed with her first attempt at 120kg in the snatch.


Her appearance in the Games has been mired in controversy and she has refused to speak directly to the media since she qualified.   

The bookmakers have her priced at 4/9 to decorate her history-making appearance with a medal, although China's Li Wenwen is the favourite to take the Gold.

Whether or not Hubbard stands on the podium, history has been made, and there are many who feel that her participation sets a precedent that will damage women's sport.

Ro Edge, of Save Women's Sports Australasia, told Radio 4 this morning: 'I think it would be really naive and ignorant to think that people will not take advantage of these rules to gain a competitive advantage.

Laurel Hubbard failed with her first attempt at 120kg in the snatch but will have at least another two efforts to make amends

Laurel Hubbard failed with her first attempt at 120kg in the snatch but will have at least another two efforts to make amends

Hubbard staggered backwards slightly before dropping the weights behind her head

Hubbard staggered backwards slightly before dropping the weights behind her head 

Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand stands beside her fellow competitors during a brief ceremony before the historic appearance in the women's weightlifting today

Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand stands beside her fellow competitors during a brief ceremony before the historic appearance in the women's weightlifting today

Hubbard on stage before the event
Hubbard claps during a brief ceremony before the event

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has appeared on stage as she prepares to make history as the first trans woman to compete in an Olympic solo event

Laurel Hubbard of Team New Zealand, left, alongside her fellow competitors ahead of the Women's 87kg+ event in Tokyo

Laurel Hubbard of Team New Zealand, left, alongside her fellow competitors ahead of the Women's 87kg+ event in Tokyo

Laurel Hubbard competing in the women's 90+kg final during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre

Laurel Hubbard competing in the women's 90+kg final during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre

Hubbard poses during a portrait session on December 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand
Hubbard waves to the crowds after injuring her arm during the women's 90+kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

The 43-year-old, who gender transitioned in 2012, is competing in the 87+kg category in Tokyo after the International Olympic Committee changed its rules to allow women to compete if their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold

Li Wenwen of China (pictured in Tokyo) is the favourite to win Gold priced at 1/14, with Hubbard priced at 7/2

Li Wenwen of China (pictured in Tokyo) is the favourite to win Gold priced at 1/14, with Hubbard priced at 7/2


'We have plenty of examples of how far athletes and nations around the world will go to achieve Olympic glory.'   

Hubbard, who is the daughter of former Mayor of Auckland Dick Hubbard, transitioned nine years ago after first competing for New Zealand as a 20-year-old man.

She first qualified for female weightlifting competitions in 2017, before securing her spot last year for the delayed 2020 Tokyo games.

Hubbard is not the first transgender athlete to feature in Tokyo. Football star Quinn is a key player for Canada's women's team.

Although Hubbard has not spoken directly to the media since qualifying, she released a statement through the IOC which was read out in a press conference last week. 

'I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible,' she said. 

The IOC cleared the way for transgender athletes to compete in Olympic women's events without gender reassignment surgery in 2015, issuing guidelines that required their testosterone levels be below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

There is now an ongoing IOC-led review of all the scientific data to determine a new framework that would allow international federations to take decisions for their sport individually, according to the IOC.

IOC medical director Richard Budgett said last week that it would be up to each federation to decide on the rules for inclusion.

Budgett reiterated on Friday the IOC's view that 'transwomen are women' and should be included in women's sport 'when we possibly can'.

'After 100 years of promoting women's sport, it's up to each of the international federations to ensure that they try and protect women's sport,' he told the briefing.

'Science will help, experience will help, and time will help.'

Many scientists have said the IOC guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as bone and muscle density. 

In a statement in May, Ms Edge of of Save Women's Sports Australasia, said: 'Typically, male and female weightlifters achieve their peak in their mid-twenties, then performance declines with increasing age. But because of an obvious and significant biological advantage, 43-year-old Hubbard has outperformed every New Zealand female weightlifter operating at their peak in the same class, thereby costing them the opportunity to represent their country at the highest level.'

Hubbard is also making history this morning as the oldest woman to ever compete in the weightlifting event. The favourite, China's Li, is just 21-years-old. 

Ms Edge added: “Everyone is entitled to participate in sport and should be encouraged to. We divide sport by sex, age, and capability to ensure fairness and player safety.

'We understand the desire to be inclusive of diversity, however this should not be at the expense of potential injuries and opportunities for biological women ...

'Ideological belief about the supremacy of "gender identity" over evidence of biological sex underpinned the IOC decision to implement their transgender guidelines in 2015.

'This decision signalled to the global sports community that it is the feelings of male athletes that take precedence over female athletes. The downstream impact on sports organisations and community sports is devastating.' 

Laurel just before she transitioned at 35 years old. Pictured (right) with her parents, including former Auckland Mayor Richard 'Dick' Hubbard' (centre)

Laurel just before she transitioned at 35 years old. Pictured (right) with her parents, including former Auckland Mayor Richard 'Dick' Hubbard' (centre)

Hubbard (circled, as Gavin in a 1993 school photo) transitioned from a man to a woman in 2012 at 35, after training and competing in male weightlifting competitions since she was a teenager

Hubbard (circled, as Gavin in a 1993 school photo) transitioned from a man to a woman in 2012 at 35, after training and competing in male weightlifting competitions since she was a teenager

Hubbard on Saturday morning warming up under the watchful eyes of her coaches

Hubbard on Saturday morning warming up under the watchful eyes of her coaches

A top Olympics advisor on trans athletes says history may judge it 'less than ideal' that transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard (pictured) is allowed to compete against women in Tokyo 2020

A top Olympics advisor on trans athletes says history may judge it 'less than ideal' that transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard (pictured) is allowed to compete against women in Tokyo 2020

IOC Secretary General Kereyn Smith last week reiterated the New Zealand Olympic Committee's support for Hubbard's inclusion and said it was important to remember that there was a 'person' at the heart of the debate. 

IWF spokesman Mark Cooper said it was a complex issue which the governing body was learning more about all the time.

'As an international federation, it's important to deal with it carefully and compassionately,' he said.

New Zealand Olympic Committee spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said Hubbard was keeping a low profile in Japan, despite the 'particularly high level of interest' in her Olympic debut.

Abbott said not all the interest on social media had been positive. 

Laurel Hubbard (pictured before her transition) will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

Laurel Hubbard (pictured before her transition) will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

'Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,' she told reporters. 'Our view is that we've got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it's our role to support all eligible athletes on our team.

'In terms of social media, we won't be engaging in any kind of negative debate.'

While she acknowledged Hubbard's appearance raised complex issues, Abbott also pointed out: 'We all need to remember that there's a person behind all these technical questions.'

'As an organisation we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space,' she said.

'We don't condone cyberbullying in any way.' 

Yesterday, a top Olympics advisor on trans athletes said history may judge it is 'less than ideal' how Hubbard has been allowed to compete.

Dr Joanna Harper, herself a trans woman and whose research fed into the IOC's decision to allow trans women athletes, has raised concerns about the participation of trans athletes in competitive weightlifting without some kind of mitigation. 

Speaking to Radio 4's Woman's Hour Dr Harper said: 'In most sports, it is probably true that hormone therapy mitigates the advantages, enough. Now, most sports do not necessarily include Olympic weightlifting.

'And I would admit that of all the sports that I might be concerned with, Olympic weightlifting might be near the top of the list.'

Dr Harper (pictured left here with former tennis star Martina Navratilova) maintains that hormone treatment for trans women mitigates the advantages of strength they would enjoy competing against women in sporting events

Dr Harper (pictured left here with former tennis star Martina Navratilova) maintains that hormone treatment for trans women mitigates the advantages of strength they would enjoy competing against women in sporting events

Hubbard is not the first transgender athlete to feature in Tokyo. Football star Rebecca Quinn (pictured) is a key player for Canada's women's team

Hubbard is not the first transgender athlete to feature in Tokyo. Football star Rebecca Quinn (pictured) is a key player for Canada's women's team 

Asked if the IOC had 'made a mistake' in allowing Hubbard to compete in the women's category, Dr Harper replied: 'I don't believe so. I think that it is possible that history will say that this is a less than ideal decision, but I don't think it's a mistake.'

Dr Harper, who herself began transitioning to a female in 2004, maintains that hormone treatment for trans women mitigates the advantages of strength they would enjoy competing against women in sporting events.

But she said that weightlifting was one of the Olympic sports where allowing transgender women to compete against cisgender women may not create an 'equal' field for participants.

Dr Harper said: 'It doesn't have to be equal to be fair, all that needs to happen is that the extreme differences need to be mitigated to the point where we can have meaningful competition.' 

'I'm not 100 per cent convinced (that the advantages have been mitigated), no, but I think that, again, the Olympics are happening, and I think that having Laurel Hubbard and other trans athletes in games is not markedly unfair.'  

Last month, Belgian competitor Anna Vanbellinghen publicly stated allowing Hubbard to compete in the women's 87+ category in Tokyo was a 'bad joke.'

She was quick to add she fully supported the transgender community but the principle of inclusion should not be 'at the expense of others'.  

'Anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes,' she told Olympics news website Inside the Games. 

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