Laurel Hubbard, a biological male who identifies as a transwoman, has qualified for a spot on New Zealand's women's weightlifting team for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. Hubbard, who is 43, will also be the oldest Olympian to compete.
"I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in a statement, according to the BBC.
This will be the first time that the world will see a biological male competing against biological women in the Olympic Games.
It was rumored that Hubbard would automatically qualify for the games this year. In May, "an International Weightlifting Federation insider confirmed to the Guardian that she would automatically qualify because of amended rules approved by the International Olympic Committee."
That insider told the Guardian that "while teams did not have to be named until 5 July, under the new qualification rules, which had come into effect after several competitions were lost because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hubbard was sure of a place in Tokyo if fit."
Hubbard took home gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in the women's weightlifting category, besting two young Samoan women. Hubbard, then 41 years old, held the gold standing atop the highest podium, while flanked by Samoa's Commonwealth Games gold medalist Feagaiga Stowers and Iuniana Sipaia, winners of the silver and bronze, respectively.
Hubbard lifted 268 kg, which was 7 kg and 13 kg more than her closest competitors. For comparison, the men's Gold Coast competition was won with a lift of 330 kg. Hubbard competed prior to transition, but was not nearly as successful as when competing in the women's category.
Hubbard transitioned at the age of 35 after entering adulthood as a male and retained all the advantages of having grown up male. Hubbard's 2012 transition enabled her to win many titles over the biological women for whom the competitions were made.
Biological males who identify as transgender have received wide acceptance from governments and corporations, and will now be seen competing against young women on the international stage. Linda Blade, author of Unsporting: How Trans Activism and Science Denial are Destroying Sport, wrote about Hubbard's inclusion in women's categories on Twitter.
Blade said that the acceptance of biological males as females is pervasive across sectors and industries, so it's not surprising that we will now see men usurping women's places in international competition.
When the two top Samoan, female athletes lost out on the top prize in 2019 because Hubbard, a biological male nearly 20 years older than both the young women took home the gold, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi appealed to the Pacific Games Council.
Tuilaepa not only had a problem with Hubbard competing in women’s athletics, forcing losses for Stowers and Sipaia, he took issue with the IOC's continued rule changes to benefit wealthier nations.
"I made a public announcement on national TV," he said. "I questioned the legitimacy of allowing transgender to lift with women. It is not easy for the female athletes to train all year long to compete and yet we allow these stupid things to happen... The reality is that gold medal belongs to Samoa," he said.
Sipaia will be lifting for Samoa at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She will likely be competing against Hubbard. Of her qualifying for Samoa's Olympic team, Sipaia said "First of all I would like to thank everyone that supported my journey and now I have successfully reached another level of my talents."
"This is my first ever Olympics and I must say it is not an easy road for me," she said. "I have always prayed and hoped for this [and] now that it has come true I am very happy indeed."
Sipaia is ranked 8th worldwide and will be competing in the super weight category. Hubbard is ranked 16th, but also missed several competitions due to COVID.
The IOC changed rules about sex-segregated events in 2015 to allow male-bodied individuals to compete in women's events if they met certain criteria. Hubbard has reduced testosterone levels to the point where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allows the biologically male athlete to compete against women.
The IOC requires that male-bodied transgender individuals who want to compete in women's events have lowered their testosterone levels to 10 nmol/liter for a period of 12 months or more. For contrast, the average amount of testosterone in women's blood is far below the 10 nmol/per liter, at between 0.3 and 2.4 nmol/L. For men, the normal, healthy range for men is 9.2 to 31.8 nmol/liter. The IOC does not require that competing athletes have gender reassignment surgery before competing in events for the opposite biological sex.