Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics after qualifying for the rescheduled Tokyo Games due to a rule change, Inside the Games website reported on Wednesday.
Hubbard was effectively guaranteed a spot in the women’s super heavyweight category, the report from the Olympics-focused trade publication said, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved an amendment to the rules as the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of many qualifying competitions.
New Zealander Hubbard, 43, has not yet been named to the national women’s weightlifting team going to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.
She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued new guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition.
Weightlifting has been at the center of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo is set to attract huge media attention as well as criticism from fellow lifters and coaches.
Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the island nation.
Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.
USA Weightlifting said it had no issue with Hubbard competing in the Games.
“We respect the rules established by the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Olympic Committee for qualification and will be focusing on assisting our athletes to compete against all those who are qualified for the Tokyo Games,” spokesman Kevin Farley told Reuters.