Transgender Kiwi weightlifter breaks her silence on her divisive Olympics selection

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has thanked the International Olympic Committee for the inclusive policies that will allow her to compete at a Games as a transgender athlete.

The New Zealander, 43, who competed as a man before transitioning in 2013, has qualified under International Weightlifting Federation rules to take part in the 87+kg category in Tokyo on Monday.

Her qualification has been divisive, however, with some questioning the fairness of transgender athletes who have been through male puberty competing against women, especially in power sports.

Hubbard has not spoken to the media since her place on the New Zealand team was confirmed and on Friday a statement was read out on her behalf at an IOC briefing on inclusion.

Transgender Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will compete at the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 87 kg division – she was a man before transitioning in 2013

‘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.

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 insidethegames.

Hubbard is not the first transgender athlete to feature in Tokyo.

Football star Quinn is a key player for Canada’s women’s team, while Alana Smith is a US skater who also identifies as non binary, meaning they don’t identify as male or female. 

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 earlier this 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’.

Quinn has been a key figure for Canada in the women's football at the Tokyo Olympics - she was also the first trans athlete to compete at Tokyo

Quinn has been a key figure for Canada in the women’s football at the Tokyo Olympics – she was also the first trans athlete to compete at Tokyo

US skater Alana Smith also is non binary, meaning she doesn't identify as male or female

US skater Alana Smith also is non binary, meaning she doesn’t identify as male or female

‘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.

Secretary General Kereyn Smith 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.

The athlete, pictured before undergoing her transition, previously competed in men's weightlifting competitions, setting junior records in 1998

Hubbard on stage during the Women's +90kg Final during the Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, after her transition

The athlete, pictured left before undergoing her transition, previously competed in men’s weightlifting competitions, setting junior records in 1998. Right: Hubbard on stage during the Women’s +90kg Final during the Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, after her transition

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

‘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.’


New Zealand professional weightlifter Laurel Hubbard could make history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympics at this year’s Tokyo games.

The intensely private athlete was born to Dick Hubbard – a former Mayor of Auckland City and founder of Hubbard Foods – in 1978.

Before he transition, she competed under the name of Gavin, and in 1998 set New Zealand junior records in the then-newly established M105+ weightlifting division with a snatch of 135kg, and a clean jerk of 170kg – totalling 300kg. 

In 2012, she was appointed to the position of Executive Officer for Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, and in the same year transitioned to female, becoming Laurel Hubbard.

In 2017 at the Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne, she won the gold medal and thus became the first trans woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand.

Since 2017, she has competed in a number of weight lifting tournaments, including the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games, the Oceania Championships, the Commonwealth Championships, the Pacific Games, the Arafura Games and the World Masters Games.

Among these tournaments, she has won six gold medals and one silver at various events, and most won gold at the Rome 2020 Weightlifting World Cup, with a total lift of 270 kg – six kilos more than silver and 45 kilos more than bronze.

Her victories have drawn criticism from other female athletes who have complained the competition is unfair, despite her eligibility to compete.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had ‘blocked out’ criticism.

‘If I try and take that weight on board it just makes the lifts harder… I am who I am,’ she said. I don’t want to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do.’ 

Hubbard also courted controversy when, on October 24, 2018, she was involved in a car crash near Queenstown, leading to two people being seriously injured.

She was charged with careless driving causing serious injury when her car crossed the road on a sharp bend, hitting a vehicle carrying an elderly Australian couple. 

Gary wells, 69, spent nearly two weeks in hospital for nearly two weeks and required major spinal surgery, while his wife, Sue Wells, had several broken ribs.

The victims have since spoken about how they were appalled at the lenient penalty given to Hubbard, after she was discharged without conviction, ordered to pay around $13,000 and disqualified from driving for one month. 

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