New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first out transgender woman to compete in the 125-year history of the Olympics on Monday as she failed to register a lift in the women’s super-heavyweight +87kg category.
Hubbard’s three failed attempts in the snatch – one at 120kg and two at 125kg – saw her exit the competition at Tokyo’s International Forum. After her final attempt, she waved to crowd and bowed before making her way off the stage.
China’s world record holder Li Wenwen set three Olympic records as she won the gold medal, first lifting 140kg in the snatch, then 180kg in the clean and jerk to finish on a total of 320kg.
A close battle for silver went the way of Great Britain’s Emily Campbell with a score of 283kg. USA’s Sarah Robles won bronze with 282kg.
Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued new guidelines allowing qualifying women to compete in women’s events provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition.
There is debate in the scientific community as to whether androgenic hormones like testosterone are useful markers of athletic advantage.
Supporters of Hubbard’s inclusion at the Games have welcomed the decision as a sign of respect for fundamental human rights, while critics have questioned the fairness of transgender women competing against cisgender women.
In 2018, Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but organizers rejected the move, citing her compliance with IOC standards.
In order to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, 43-year-old Hubbard had to overcome a serious elbow injury sustained at the Commonwealth Games. At the time, she was advised that her sporting career was likely over.
However, she recovered and secured her Olympic berth in June.
“I am not entirely unaware of the controversy which surrounds my participation at these Games,” Hubbard said after competing on Monday.
“And as such, I would particularly like to thank the IOC for, I think, really affirming its commitment to the principles of Olympism and establishing that sport is something for all people. It is inclusive, accessible.”
The IOC is set to review its guidelines on transgender participation after the Tokyo Olympics, with Richard Budgett, the body’s medical and scientific director, saying last week: “It would have been inappropriate to come out with a new framework or guidelines just before the Olympics. There will be a new framework, with the help of international federations, but it is not published yet.”
Hubbard is the first known transgender woman to compete in the Games, but there is another transgender athlete competing in this year’s Olympic Games.
Hubbard’s entry in the history books comes alongside Canadian footballer Quinn, who is the first trans and non-binary athlete to compete at the Olympics. Quinn is also the first trans athlete who is guaranteed a medal at Tokyo 2020 after Canada’s semifinal win over the US on Monday.
Although fans have been barred from attending Olympic events in Tokyo amid the pandemic, officials and team members shouted encouragement from the audience for the women’s +87kg competition. Music pumping from speakers between competitors’ lifts also contributed to the event’s atmosphere.
The 21-year-old Li set the bar high with her three lifts in the snatch – the first of which was two kilograms heavier than any other athlete had managed. She had the gold medal wrapped up with her first successful lift of 162kg in the clean and jerk and went on to also clear her next two attempts at 173kg and 180kg.
Campbell had to clean and jerk 161kg in order to finish ahead of Robles and win silver, and she let out a scream of delight when the lift was confirmed.