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

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Laurel Hubbard lifted a whopping 628 pounds in two lifts to qualify for her first Olympic Games. And when she competes in Tokyo next month, she will make history as the first openly transgender athlete ever to do so. 

Representing New Zealand,  Hubbard will compete in the women’s super-heavyweight 87-kg weightlifting category on August 2. The 43-year-old will also be the oldest lifter at the Games

“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. “The last eighteen months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The mana of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride.”

Hubbard, who is from Auckland, won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. She has battled back from a serious injury in 2018 that threatened to cut her career short. 

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” she said. “But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha carried me through the darkness.”

According to a statement released Monday by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC), Hubbard has met the International Olympic Committee and International Weightlifting Federation’s eligibility requirements for athletes who transition. Issued in 2015, those guidelines specify female transgender athletes can compete in the women’s category if their total testosterone level is 10 nanomoles per liter in serum for at least one year before their first competition.

New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard competes during the women’s +90kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on April 9, 2018.

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning, and she has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since the IOC released its new guidelines in 2015, according to Reuters. While critics have attempted to block Hubbard from competition in the past, the NZOC says she has its full support. 

“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,” NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith said. “As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of manaaki and inclusion and respect for all. 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.”

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” said Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson. 

The announcement comes as dozens of states are attempting to pass legislation banning transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports. Parents and advocacy groups have called the restrictions unconstitutional.

Idaho became the first state to enact such a ban last year but it was blocked by a federal judge amid an ongoing legal battle. This year, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee enacted similar bans of their own.

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