Laurel Hubbard becomes the first openly transgender woman to compete.

Laurel Hubbard becomes the first openly transgender woman to compete.


Hubbard’s presence pushed the weight lifting competition, which often gets far less attention than gymnastics, swimming, track and field and other Olympic sports, onto center stage. Yet Hubbard has little beyond a statement weeks ago after she was selected to compete. She rarely speaks to the media, though she did say in 2017 that she did not see herself as a flag-bearer for transgender athletes.

The New Zealand Olympic committee has shielded Hubbard since she arrived in Tokyo. Kereyn Smith, Secretary General of the committee, called Hubbard “quite a private person” and said she wanted her lifting to be the focus.

Hubbard has won several tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, but appeared before a global audience on Monday against competitors that include a world-record holder from China, Li Wenwen, and Sarah Robles, an American who won a bronze medal at the Rio Games in 2016.

In recent years, weight lifting has been more likely to make headlines because athletes were caught using performance-enhancing drugs. After decades of rampant doping, bribery, vote-rigging and corruption at weight lifting’s highest levels, the International Olympic Committee took action last year by threatening to drop the sport from the Games in the coming months if the International Weightlifting Federation does not introduce a host of fixes, including rigorous drug testing measures and governance changes.

The International Olympic Committee has left it up to sports federations to decide whether and how transgender athletes can compete, and Hubbard has met all the requirements set by the International Weightlifting Federation.

Hubbard won junior titles in men’s competitions before her transition, but stopped weight lifting in her 20s because, she told an interviewer, “it just became too much to bear” as she struggled to cope with her identity. She resumed competing in 2012, five years after she transitioned. When she won three titles in 2017, her performances triggered a firestorm on social media.

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Last week, officials from the I.O.C. said they would soon adopt new guidelines, originally developed in 2015, governing the participation of transgender women in Olympic sports because they consider the current rules outdated.