Laurel Hubbard, transgender weightlifter, named to New Zealand Olympic team

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Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter from New Zealand, has been named to the nation’s Olympic team after qualifying via international rankings at the end of May.

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.

“As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria including those based on IOC Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes,” New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith said in a press release. “We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play.”

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) 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, second and sixth at the world championships in 2017 and 2019, last competed internationally on March 1, 2020, according to the IWF.

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.

She 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.

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“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said in the Olympic team announcement release. “But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha carried me through the darkness.

“The last eighteen months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The mana of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride.”

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.

“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 would break the record for oldest female Olympic weightlifter, 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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”