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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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Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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