Trans woman Laurel Hubbard exits Olympics after controversial appearance

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard made a historic but controversial appearance in the Olympics this week as the first transgender competitor but failed to make the medal podium.

“I know my participation in these games has not been entirely without controversy,” the 43-year-old New Zealand athlete acknowledged.

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Laurel exited the Games after failing three attempts to register a lift in the 87+ kilogram category. She was the only athlete in the finals to not complete at least one lift.

“Thank you so very much for your interest in my humble sporting performance tonight,” Hubbard said afterward. “I know from a sporting perspective I did not live up to the standards I put upon myself.”

The issue of transgender athletes competing in women’s events despite being born men is fraught with debate. Many feel that trans women have a significant biological advantage over athletes born female. Others feel that acknowledging and embracing a person’s gender identity is the most important factor to consider in sports equality.

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“Laurel Hubbard has every reason to be proud. She made history by being the first openly-trans woman to compete in an Olympic Games. She may have not made it past the initial stage of competition, but she’s given a great deal of hope and pride to trans kids in sports,” said writer Charlotte Clymer.

“So incredibly proud to see her competing in the category that is correct for her,” agreed another Twitter user. “Young Trans people have a lot to positively take from hers & other Trans athletes participation in #Tokyo2020.”

“’Trans women are women’ too often means that the interests of male-born people are given priority over the interests of people born female,” wrote think tank director James Kirkup.

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“1998-2012: Laurel Hubbard fails to qualify for a single international men’s tournament as a professional weightlifter 2013: Hubbard ‘transitions’ (aged 35) 2014-21: Hubbard qualifies for 11 international women’s tournaments, including the Olympics #LaurelHubbardIsACheat,” one woman tweeted

“Laurel Hubbard was the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. This is just the start. Really looking forward to the 2024 Olympics when we’ll get to watch the Men’s 100m sprint and the Mediocre Men’s 100m sprint*. *Previously known as the Women’s 100m sprint,” tweeted broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer.

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled on a “scientific consensus” that allows transgender athletes to compete in categories that reflect their current gender identity, regardless of the biological sex with which they were born. 

“There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, and is competing under the rules of her federation, and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games,” said Dr. Richard Budgett, medical and science director of the IOC.

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Budgett hesitated to say that Hubbard had an advantage, despite experiencing the hormones of male puberty and adulthood, citing “many other factors to go into account.” He said it wasn’t a black and white issue and that each sport should independently evaluate its position on transgender athletes.

The IOC and Dr. Budgett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.