Laurel Hubbard competes in weightlifting for New Zealand. / Picture: APA / AFP / ADRIAN DENNIS
Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will be in the spotlight on Monday at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in the 87kg women's class. The 43-year-old competes with Sarah Fischer from Lower Austria, although she was seen as a man for her first 35 years. Now she feels that she has arrived, even though it took decades for the New Zealander. She is transgender – a person who does not feel they belong to the gender assigned at birth.
She is the first Olympic athlete to openly change her gender identity. And their participation also causes controversy. For the International Olympic Committee (IOC), their start is a sign of openness and inclusion. But what does the competition say when it comes to the duel of tearing and bumping in the weight class over 87 kg on Monday? Fischer is primarily happy to have bought the ticket and did not comment specifically on this topic before her Olympic debut.
“Like a bad joke”
Anna van Bellinghen, on the other hand, very much, although the Belgian, unlike Fischer, will only compete in the B group of the weaker active. “I understand that nothing is as easy for sports authorities as following common sense, and that there are many imponderables when investigating such a rare phenomenon,” she said on the portal “insidethegames.com”. “But it feels like a bad joke to the athletes.”
Van Bellinghen stressed that she fully supports the transgender community, not denying the identity of athletes. “Anyone who has trained in weightlifting at a high level knows that this particular situation is unfair for the sport and the athletes,” she said. A legal framework for the participation of transgender athletes is very difficult “because there is an infinite variety of situations,” she said. Finding a completely satisfactory solution is probably impossible.
The IOC stipulates that the testosterone level of a person who has been declared a woman may be a maximum of 10 nanomoles per liter of blood for at least twelve months before the competition. The IOC paved the way for transgender participants years ago. A new framework for dealing with trans people will come within the next two months, and the individual associations should then orient themselves on this.
Hubbard: “I'm just me”
In any case, before her gender reassignment, Hubbard had a top duel of 300 kg in 1998, and in 2019 she still had a personal best of 285 kg. “Laurel Hubbard is a woman and qualified under the conditions of the IMF (World Federation),” said IOC chief physician Richard Budget. “We have to appreciate her courage and her persistence in actually taking part in the competitions and qualifying for the Games.”
The attention at Hubbard's first Olympic appearance will be great. She doesn't look for the spotlight, and she certainly doesn't want to be perceived as a pioneer or convert anyone. “I don't think I'm braver than others,” said Hubbard, who thanked the IOC for its commitment shortly before the start. “I'm just me.”