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Laurel Hubbard, transgender weightlifter, faces climb to qualify for Olympics

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New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, entered to compete in the world championships super heavyweight division in Thailand on Friday, would not qualify for the Olympics if the field was determined today.

But she’s not completely out of the running to become the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Games.

Hubbard, a 41-year-old who lifted as Gavin Hubbard in men’s competition before transitioning in her mid-30s, got a late start in weightlifting’s new, three-staged Olympic qualifying process.

She came back from an April 2018 injury that she believed would be career-ending to remain Olympic eligible by the slimmest margin. All Tokyo Olympic hopeful lifters must compete at least once in each of the three phases of Olympic qualifying. The first phase was from Nov. 1-April 30.

Hubbard had not competed in phase one before entering the Arafura Games, a multi-sport event held in Australia’s Northern Territory. On April 29, one day before the end of the first Olympic qualifying window, she took three snatch attempts and failed at all of them — “bombing out,” as they say in weightlifting.

Hubbard received zero Olympic qualifying points, but she had technically competed, which kept her Olympic eligible. A lifter’s top points score from one meet in each of the three phases, plus their next-best overall score, are combined to make up the Olympic qualifying rankings.

She has since completed lifts, winning Oceania’s Pacific Games in July. But she goes into worlds ranked 33rd in the Olympic qualifying standings in the 87+kg division. Only 14 weightlifters will compete in Tokyo per division.

However, Hubbard may only need to pass one lifter on that ranking list by the cutoff date of April 30, 2020. The top eight lifters in the standings on that date, maximum one per country, will qualify for Tokyo. After that, each continent gets a spot. Oceania counts as a continent in these terms.

Currently, a Samoan is in seventh place in Hubbard’s division (but fifth when taking out countries with multiple athletes), which would mean automatic Olympic qualification. After that, Oceania’s spot would go to an Australian ranked 22nd. Hubbard is the next-highest ranked lifter from Oceania in 33rd place.

A strong performance at the world championships would obviously do Hubbard a lot of good. Before the arm injury, she earned silver at the 2017 Worlds with a total weight of 275kg between the snatch and clean and jerk.

The Australian ranked ahead of her — Charisma Amoe-Tarrant — lifted a total of 246kg at the same competition that Hubbard won in July with a 268kg total. But, unlike Hubbard, Amoe-Tarrant actually scored points in the earlier first phase of Olympic qualifying — 432.4134 to be exact — and has a 281-point lead on Hubbard going into worlds.

“[Hubbard] has a shot, but I’d say she’s got an uphill climb,” USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews said. “If she can medal [at worlds], then, yes, absolutely she’s a contender. I cannot imagine a circumstance where she medals in this world championships. Top 12, yeah, maybe.”

Seven lifters set to compete Friday have a higher total lift weight entry than the 275kg that Hubbard hoisted at 2017 Worlds. Olympic qualifying points are determined not by placement, but by lift weight.

New Zealand’s weightlifting federation declined comment last week and said that Hubbard and coaches were unavailable for interviews. Her being eligible to compete is a sensitive topic in weightlifting.

She gave multiple interviews to New Zealand media in December 2017.

“Obviously the policies that are being put forward by organizations like the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the IWF [International Weightlifting Federation] are evolving, and perhaps they may change after I’ve competed,” Hubbard said following her 2017 World silver medal. “But I would ask people to keep an open mind and perhaps look to the fact that I didn’t win as perhaps the evidence that any advantage I may hold is not as great as they might think. I may have started competing [as a woman] in the last 12 to 14 months, but I started training years and years and years before that. To be honest, I had to wait until the world changed before I could really compete again, and I’m grateful that it has. … The rules that enable me to compete first went into effect in 2003, were known as the Stockholm Consensus of the IOC. But, I think even 10 years ago, the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself, and perhaps it’s not really now. But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me.”

Per the IOC, athletes who transition from male to female are eligible to compete, without surgery, if their total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months.

An International Weightlifting Federation official said that the organization recently held a medical committee meeting where transgender eligibility rules were discussed. Any possible deviation from the IOC’s policy would likely not be made until after the Tokyo Olympics.

At the 2017 Worlds, the only woman to beat Hubbard was American Sarah Robles. Robles’ coach said then of Hubbard, “Nobody wanted her to win,” according to Reuters.

Robles and her coach declined comment through USA Weightlifting for this story.

“As far as I’m concerned, if she meets the rules, she’s able to compete,” Andrews said. “I do believe that more research needs to be done. What’s severely lacking is real academic research into the effect of a transition on a power sport. By which I mean does the transition from one gender to the other have more of an effect on a sport such as weightlifting, track and field, cycling, triathlon or swimming than it does on, say, archery or shooting, where there’s less physical power involved in your action.”

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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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