Until eight years ago she lived as a man – now she starts as a woman!
The hall in the Toyko International Forum creates a cinema atmosphere. Cozy light, comfortable seats. The B round is running in women’s weightlifting over 87 kilograms. The athletes on stage moan and scream through the hall. A few spectators in the seats clap reverently when the athletes succeed in a valid attempt. Weightlifters combine strength and technique. Top sporting achievements, which are hardly noticed even at the Olympics. Or do you know the 2016 Olympic champion? Meng Suping. Right.
At these Olympic Games, significantly more spectators and media will be interested in the show of strength on the barbell. Especially for the new super heavyweight competition for women. Laurel Hubbard will make sports history there on Monday. However, with controversial chapters. The New Zealand athlete becomes the first transgender woman to take part in an Olympic competition.
Hubbard, 43, from Auckland was formerly Gavin and lived the life of a man until she was 35. The New Zealander, who weighs around 130 kilograms, is transgender. She never felt attached to the sex assigned to her at birth. Therefore, she had her sex changed surgically.
“Men have performance advantages in their biological gender”
She originally started lifting weights because she hoped it would make her feel more manly, Hubbard revealed in an interview. Now she tears and pushes the barbell at Olympia as a woman. In a statement from the National Olympic Committee in New Zealand, Hubbard said, “I am grateful and humble for the kindness and support I have received from so many New Zealanders.”
But not everyone on the scene approves of Hubbard’s participation in women’s competitions. Since the New Zealander first started as a woman in 2017, the critical voices have not wanted to fall silent. “I understand that nothing is as easy for sports authorities as following common sense, and that there are many uncertainties in investigating such a rare phenomenon. But for the athletes the whole thing feels like a bad joke, ”criticized Anna Van Bellinghen in the run-up to the games.
The Belgian, who starts in Tokyo in Hubbard’s weight class, also emphasized that she fully supports the transgender community and does not reject the identity of athletes. “Anyone who has trained in weightlifting at a high level, however, knows very well that this particular situation is unfair for the sport and the athletes,” Bellinghen said. While Hubbard’s best performance in a duel before her gender reassignment was 300 kilograms, the brand stands at 285 kilograms as a woman.
Katherine Deves, spokeswoman for the group “Save Women’s Sport Australia”, also speaks of unfair competition conditions as soon as Hubbard takes the stage. “Because men have performance advantages that are based on their biological gender. They surpass us in speed, endurance and strength, ”explains Deves. Just considering the testosterone factor is misleading.
“We neglect the anatomy, the faster twitching muscles, the larger organs. Men recover faster, have stronger bones, no tilted pelvis and are therefore less prone to knee and ankle injuries. ”The list could go on and on, the Australian emphasized with a view to Hubbard’s supposed advantages over her opponents.
LGBTQ guide for journalists on how to report
In any case, Hubbard has strict rules. According to the International Olympic Committee, a transgender woman must officially declare that her gender identity is female. This declaration may not be changed for four years afterwards. For this purpose, the testosterone level is continuously checked. At Hubbard, the value before the competition may be a maximum of 10 nanomoles per liter of blood for at least twelve months. These guidelines have been in effect since November 2015 and are reminiscent of a controversial case from athletics.
Caster Semenya, a middle-distance runner from South Africa, accompanied years of discussions about her gender. The now 30-year-old athlete has a naturally elevated testosterone level as a result of a disorder in gender development. In the meantime, Semenya had to undergo hormone treatment in order to start with the women.
In the case of the New Zealand weightlifter, the IOC recently took a clear stand. “Laurel Hubbard is a woman and qualified under IMF terms. We have to appreciate her courage and persistence in actually taking part in the competitions and qualifying for the Olympics, ”said Richard Budgett, chief medical officer of the committee, on the sidelines of the Tokyo Games.
How polarizing the topic is was made clear on Monday by a small piece of paper that a man with a flat cap had already handed out on the media platform during the B round in the morning. “Instructions for journalists reporting on LGBTQ athletes and issues at the Olympics” is written on it. He comes from Athlete Ally, a non-profit LGBTQ advocacy group based in the United States. If you scan the QR code, you will find information on the basic terminology, outstanding examples of reporting and a look at the history of transgender people at the Olympics.
Hubbard: “I’m not here to change the world”
Hubbard himself, on the other hand, shies away from any attention and certainly does not want to be perceived as a role model. “I am who I am. I am not here to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do, ”said the weightlifter at the end of 2017. At the time, she gave one of her rare interviews on public television in her home country.
Hubbard received indirect support from a US athlete in Tokyo. Raven Saunders, who won silver in the shot put in Tokyo, used her award ceremony to send a message: she formed an X over her head with her arms. When asked about it, Saunders said: “It is the intersection where all people who are oppressed meet.” Her greeting is addressed to all of her black people, the LBGTQ community and everyone who struggles with mental problems.
In Tokyo, Hubbard will be the favorite for the gold medal on Monday (1:50 p.m. CEST).