Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard May Become the First Trans Athlete to Compete at the Olympics

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Photo credit: Scott Barbour - Getty Images
Photo credit: Scott Barbour - Getty Images

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard could become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after qualification rules were changed because of Covid-19.

Having transitioned in 2013, Hubbard, who previously competed in male events, has been eligible to compete in the Olympics as a transgender athlete since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee changed its guidelines to allow athletes with reassigned genders to compete in male or female sports.

From 2015 onwards, trans athletes have been allowed to compete as long as they fall within specific testosterone levels (10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months).

Hubbard has not yet been named in the New Zealand team, but her chances of getting to compete at the rescheduled Tokyo Games have been improved by a change in IOC qualification rules, which means athletes only have to attend four competitions rather than six because of the impact of Covid-19.

According to the BBC, The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) has said Hubbard is "very likely" to be "allocated an international federation quota spot for Tokyo 2020".

Hubbard's participation at an Olympics would be controversial, but that's nothing new for her. In 2018, the Australian weightlifting federation tried to block Hubbard from competing at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, while a year later she caused controversy by winning gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.

The NZOC has already come out in support of its athlete. "The New Zealand team has a strong culture of inclusion and respect for all. We look forward to supporting all athletes selected to the New Zealand team in Tokyo 2020," said the NZOC in a statement.

Whether trans athletes retain an advantage over their cis counterparts remains a complicated issue.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year reported trans women retained a 12% advantage in running tests even after taking hormones for two years to suppress their testosterone. However, the study also found that after two years the differences in press-up and sit-up performance had disappeared.

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