WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Laurel Hubbard lifted 628 pounds (185 kilograms) in two attempts to qualify for the women’s heavyweight category at the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s a lot of weight, but it has nothing to do with the metaphorical load that Hubbard carried to become the first moving athlete to compete in the Olympics.
Hubbard was one of five weightlifters confirmed for New Zealand’s squad on Monday with Tokyo. At 43 years old, she will be the world’s oldest weightlifter, ranked fourth in the August 2 women’s competition of 87 kg (192 lbs).
Hubbard won the silver medal at the 2017 World Cup Finals and the gold medal at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. In 2018, he competed in the Commonwealth Games, but suffered a serious injury that slowed his career.
“I am grateful and honored for the kindness and support I have received from so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was told my sporting career might be over. But your support, encouragement and showing her (your love) led me in the dark.”
An additional burden on Hubbard is that her efforts have put her at the center of the debate over whether it is fair for transgender athletes to compete in the women’s categories. He has been the target of anger and ridicule, and has received criticism from some competitors.
Hubbard moved eight years ago, at the age of thirty-five. Since then, he has fulfilled all the requirements of the International Olympic Committee regarding transformed athletes and fair competition.
Belgium’s Anna Vanbellingen, who will likely rival Hubbard, said her attendance would be a “bad joke” for the runners.
“I realize that defining a legal framework for transgender participation in sport is very difficult, as there are an infinite variety of situations and it may be impossible to arrive at a completely satisfactory solution to all aspects of the debate,” Vanbellinghen said. “However, anyone who has trained in weightlifting at a high level knows this is true: in this particular case, it is unfair to sports and math.”
“Of course, this discussion is taking place in the broader context of transgender discrimination, so the issue is never without ideology,” he added.
Other athletes and members of weightlifting federations have claimed Hubbard has a natural advantage in physiology and strength.
Hubbard does not usually give interviews. In 2017, he told New Zealand website Stuff that his strategy in the face of criticism is to “focus on the mission”.
“I realize I won’t have everyone’s support, but I am confident that people can be open and see my work in a broader context,” he said.
“Maybe the fact that someone like me has been around for so long suggests that the problems people are proposing are not what they might seem,” he added.