New Zealand's transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will be shielded


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New Zealand Olympic officials have vowed to shield transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard from social media trolls as the weightlifter prepares to make history at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hubbard is set to become the first openly transgender woman at the Olympics when she competes in the +87kg category on Monday, sparking heated online debate.

The 43-year-old was born male and competed as a man before transitioning to female in her 30s, taking up the sport at elite level again after meeting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines for transgender athletes.

New Zealand Olympic Committee spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said Hubbard was keeping a low profile in Japan, despite the 'particularly high level of interest' in her Olympic debut.

Abbott said not all the interest on social media had been positive.

Pictured: New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard competes in the women's weightlifting competition during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. New Zealand Olympic officials have vowed to shield Hubbard from negative attention on social media

'Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,' she told reporters. 'Our view is that we've got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it's our role to support all eligible athletes on our team.

'In terms of social media, we won't be engaging in any kind of negative debate.'

While she acknowledged Hubbard's appearance raised complex issues, Abbott also pointed out: 'We all need to remember that there's a person behind all these technical questions.'

'As an organisation we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space,' she said.

'We don't condone cyberbullying in any way.'

The intensely private Hubbard has been a reluctant trailblazer, insisting during rare media interviews that she just wants to be left alone to pursue her sport.

In a statement released by the NZOC Friday she said: 'The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.'

Hubbard entered the Games ranked 16th in the world but is rated a reasonable chance of a medal as the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented many higher-ranked rivals attending.

An International Weightlifting Federation spokesman said that Hubbard would be under no obligation to speak to journalists after her event.

The athlete, pictured left before undergoing her transition, previously competed in men's weightlifting competitions, setting junior records in 1998. Right: Hubbard on stage during the Women's +90kg Final during the Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, after her transition

Critics argue Hubbard has an unfair advantage over female rivals due to physical attributes locked into her body during her formative years as a male.

Supporters say her appearance is a victory for inclusion and trans rights.

Under current IOC guidelines, introduced in 2015, a transgender woman can compete provided her testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre.

Previously, trans athletes had to undergo gender reassignment surgery followed by at least two years of hormone therapy.

The IOC is reviewing its guidelines, which are expected to be published in the next few months.

IOC spokesman Christian Klaue said the new framework would be an 'evolution' that was sure to be revised again eventually as more data about trans athletes became available.

'It will be a very challenging balancing act of all the different points we need to take into account - fairness, inclusion, safety,' he said.

Hubbard (pictured post-transition) rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had 'blocked out' criticism 

'There needs to be a sweet spot to achieve what we need and wherever that sweet spot is, it is probably going to be criticised by some - it's not going to be the ultimate solution.'

IOC medical director Richard Budgett played concerns that trans athletes could come to dominate women's sport, saying Hubbard was the only trans athlete to reach the Olympics since eligibility was first thrown open in 2003.

'If you're prepared to extrapolate a bit from the evidence there is (and) consider the fact that there's been no openly transgender women at the top level until now, then I think the threat to woman's sport is probably overstated,' he said. 

Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Many scientists have criticised these guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Testosterone is responsible for increased muscle mass and strength in males, and while testosterone blockers - or Antiandrogen - limit the body's production of the hormone, some say people born male will keep their natural advantage, particular at competition levels.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field in sport.

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was born male but transitioned to female in her 30s. She competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013. Pictured: Laurel Hubbard, post transition, in 2017 competing during the world championships in the women's competition

When competing as a man in 1998, she set New Zealand junior records with a snatch of 135kg, and a clean jerk of 170kg - totalling 300kg. The record was later beaten.

Since 2017, Hubbard has won six gold medals and one silver at various events, regularly out-lifting her competitors. 

She has not surpassed this weight since competing as a woman, with her highest competitive totals coming at the World Masters Games in 2017, lifting 131 kg in the snatch and 149 kg in the clean and jerk - a total of 280 kg.

Most recently at the Rome 2020 Weightlifting World Cup, she won gold with a total lift of 270 kg - six kilos more than that lifted by the silver medal winner, and 45 kilos more than the bronze medal winner.  

New Zealand professional weightlifter Laurel Hubbard could make history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympics at this year's Tokyo games.

The intensely private athlete was born to Dick Hubbard - a former Mayor of Auckland City and founder of Hubbard Foods - in 1978.

Before he transition, she competed under the name of Gavin, and in 1998 set New Zealand junior records in the then-newly established M105+ weightlifting division with a snatch of 135kg, and a clean jerk of 170kg - totalling 300kg. 

In 2012, she was appointed to the position of Executive Officer for Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, and in the same year transitioned to female, becoming Laurel Hubbard.

In 2017 at the Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne, she won the gold medal and thus became the first trans woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand.

Since 2017, she has competed in a number of weight lifting tournaments, including the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games, the Oceania Championships, the Commonwealth Championships, the Pacific Games, the Arafura Games and the World Masters Games.

Among these tournaments, she has won six gold medals and one silver at various events, and most won gold at the Rome 2020 Weightlifting World Cup, with a total lift of 270 kg - six kilos more than silver and 45 kilos more than bronze.

Her victories have drawn criticism from other female athletes who have complained the competition is unfair, despite her eligibility to compete.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had 'blocked out' criticism.

'If I try and take that weight on board it just makes the lifts harder... I am who I am,' she said. I don't want to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do.' 

Hubbard also courted controversy when, on October 24, 2018, she was involved in a car crash near Queenstown, leading to two people being seriously injured.

She was charged with careless driving causing serious injury when her car crossed the road on a sharp bend, hitting a vehicle carrying an elderly Australian couple. 

Gary wells, 69, spent nearly two weeks in hospital for nearly two weeks and required major spinal surgery, while his wife, Sue Wells, had several broken ribs.

The victims have since spoken about how they were appalled at the lenient penalty given to Hubbard, after she was discharged without conviction, ordered to pay around $13,000 (around £6,750) and disqualified from driving for one month.