Weightlifting: Olympic Games set for transgender first

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will make history at Tokyo 2020

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard 
Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard 
(Image credit: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

After a year-long postponement, the Olympic Games are due to kick off in Tokyo next month. But even before they start they’ll have made history, said Sean Ingle in The Guardian: a New Zealand weightlifter, who for 35 years lived as a man, is set to become the “first transgender athlete ever to compete” in the Olympics. Laurel Hubbard, 43, was formally selected this week to compete in the women’s super heavyweight 87kg category.

Hubbard showed early promise as a male weightlifter before quitting the sport for personal reasons at the age of 23, said Aidan Wondracz in the Daily Mail. However, since taking it up again after her transition in 2013, she has won several medals in international competitions competing as a female.

And she qualifies for the Tokyo 2020 games, said Bernard Lagan in The Times, because under guidelines introduced by the International Olympic Committee in 2015, trans women can compete in women’s events – even without surgery to remove their testes – provided their testosterone level hasn’t exceeded ten nanomoles per litre over the previous year.

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But since natal females average under two nanomoles of testosterone per litre, this ruling doesn’t offset the sizeable advantage enjoyed by trans women athletes. In any case, there’s growing evidence that a person’s current testosterone level has only limited bearing on their athleticism. It seems that if an athlete goes through puberty as a male, they “retain significant advantages in power and strength”, whatever drugs they take to reduce their testosterone.

Some of Hubbard’s rivals at the Olympics regard her presence as deeply unfair, said The Daily Telegraph. To let her participate, says Belgian Anna Van Bellinghen, who competes in the same weight category, would be “like a bad joke”.

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