Pioneering New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard created history in Tokyo Monday when she became the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympic Games.
Hubbard is contesting the +87kg category in a groundbreaking move that Olympic chiefs say makes the Games more inclusive but critics fear will undermine women’s sport.
She failed with her first attempt at 120kg in the snatch.
Hubbard, 43, was born male and competed as a man before transitioning to female in her 30s, taking up the sport again after meeting IOC guidelines on reduced testosterone for transgender athletes.
She has maintained a low profile ahead of her moment in the spotlight at the Tokyo International Forum, aside from releasing a brief statement via New Zealand officials.
“The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible,” she said.
Hubbard has already blazed a trail as the first transgender Commonwealth Games athlete in 2018 and won silver at the 2017 world championships.
But her presence on sport’s biggest stage in Tokyo has reignited debate about transgender athletes in women’s sport, raising complex issues of bioethics, human rights, science, fairness and identity.
Critics argue Hubbard has an unfair advantage over female rivals due to physical attributes locked into her body during her formative years as a male.
Supporters say her appearance is a victory for inclusion and trans rights.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee told reporters in Tokyo last week they had taken steps to shield the intensely private athlete from a tsunami of negative social media comments as she prepares for her Games debut.
“We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions,” NZOC spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said.
In a rare interview in 2017, Hubbard said she was “not here to change the world” and blocked out criticism to focus on excelling in her sport.
“I’m mindful I won’t be supported by everyone but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context,” she said.
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