Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter from New Zealand, is very likely to earn an Olympic berth as the qualifying deadline of May 31 nears.
No openly transgender athlete has competed at an Olympics, according to Olympic historians. Hubbard, 43, transitioned in her mid-30s and has competed at the top international level since 2017.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee issued a statement after Wednesday reports that Hubbard clinched Olympic qualification, clarifying that it’s “very likely” she will qualify an Olympic spot. If she qualifies, the committee is expected to decide in June whether to take the next and final step — nominating her to the Olympic team.
It will nominate athletes who demonstrate the potential to place in the top eight in Tokyo. Hubbard was second and sixth at the world championships in 2017 and 2019. Her last recorded international result was March 1, 2020.
“We are not in a position to comment on the likelihood of any athlete’s selection until we have the necessary evidence,” according to the NZOC statement.
The International Weightlifting Federation adheres to IOC transgender guidelines introduced in 2015: athletes who transition from male to female are eligible for the Olympics if their total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months. The athlete’s declaration that her gender identity is female also cannot be changed for at least four years.
Hubbard competed against men until 2001, stopping lifting at age 23 due to “the pressure of trying to fit into, perhaps, a world that wasn’t really set up for people like myself,” she said in 2017.
Hubbard last spoke extensively to media after taking silver at the 2017 World Championships behind American Sarah Robles. She has since declined interview requests through New Zealand’s federation, including after Wednesday’s reports.
“To be honest, I had to wait until the world changed before I could really compete again, and I’m grateful that it has,” Hubbard said in 2017, adding that she regained the belief to compete in 2014. “I think even 10 years ago, the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself, and perhaps it’s not ready now. But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions.”
Hubbard ranks 16th overall in the 87+kg weight class in Olympic qualifying. The top eight lifters are guaranteed spots, one per nation, and then each continent also gets one spot, excluding nations that qualified in the top eight.
Hubbard currently has Oceania’s continental spot, leading a lifter from Australia by 89.9976 points. To put that margin in perspective, both have more than 1,900 points from totaling four of their best competition results since November 2018.
Another Oceania lifter, from Samoa, ranks seventh overall when excluding extra, higher-ranked lifters from China and South Korea, a Russian who is currently banned and a North Korean after that nation announced it will not send athletes to the Tokyo Games. If the Samoan drops out of the top eight, the Samoan is in line to take the Oceania spot from Hubbard.
There are remaining qualifying events before the May 31 deadline — one next week in Colombia (the Australian lifter was not on the start list as of Wednesday), the African Championships the week after that and the world junior championships in the last week of May.
The junior world championships are for lifters born in 2000 or later. The Australian trailing Hubbard was born in 1999.
Hubbard came back from rupturing an elbow ligament on a snatch attempt in April 2018, an injury she believed would be career-ending, to remain Olympic eligible.
Hubbard needed to compete once between Nov. 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 to stay in the qualifying race. She did so on April 29, 2019, taking three snatch attempts and failing on all of them — “bombing out,” as they say in weightlifting — and receiving zero qualifying points, but retaining Olympic eligibility.
Hubbard, whose father is Dick Hubbard, a former Auckland mayor and cereal magnate, according to New Zealand media, climbed in the Olympic qualifying race while winning five of her last seven competitions. She was in position to qualify for Tokyo on the original deadline of April 30.
The IOC on Tuesday approved the IWF’s proposed changes to qualifying, including extending the deadline to May 31. Many Olympic sports made qualifying changes as competitions have been canceled and altered over the last 14 months.
Hubbard would break the record for oldest female Olympic weightlifter by more than four years, according to Olympedia.org.
“I’m not here to change the world,” she said in 2017. “I just want to be me and just do what I do.”
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