First openly transgender athlete set to compete at delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics

First openly transgender athlete set to compete at delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics
AP Photo/Manish Swarup
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The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games appear set to feature the qualification of the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the competition, following the approval of an amended qualifying system by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Laurel Hubbard, a male-to-female transgender weightlifter from New Zealand, “has been effectively guaranteed a place” at the Games after changes to the qualification process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Inside The Games.

Upon the pending qualification, Hubbard, 43, will be the oldest weightlifter competing in Tokyo. After sustaining a serious elbow injury three years ago at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Hubbard's career seemed in jeopardy.

Now, with a best lift of 285 kilograms, Hubbard seems like a serious medal threat in the women's super-heavyweight division at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Hubbard currently ranks 16th in the world, but six of the women — four from China, two from Korea — ranked above will not be participating in these Games. Countries are only permitted to enter one athlete per category.

Prior to transitioning, Hubbard, who lived as a male for 35 years, never made it into the ranks of international weightlifting. Following the transition in 2021, Hubbard ascended to new athletic heights, finishing as runner-up at the 2017 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, as well as winning titles and competitions at the continental and elite level.

At the last IWF World Championship that was held in 2019 prior to the pandemic shutdown of sports, having recovered from the elbow injury, Hubbard finished in sixth place. Only three of those who ranked above Hubbard will be competing in Tokyo this summer.

Much like the rest of the sporting world, the transgender New Zealander's presence in women's weightlifting has generated controversy.

The modifications to the rules that allowed Hubbard to compete in the women's division were enacted in 2003.

Following the second place finish in 2017, Hubbard explained that “the rules that enabled me to compete 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,” Hubbard said, adding, “But I got the sense 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.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the standard qualification process for the Games had to be changed. Inside The Games has the full explanation of the qualification process from the IOC here. Qualification concludes on July 5, and the Games are set to kickoff on July 23 before concluding on August 8.

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