Laurel Hubbard made history in Tokyo on Monday night, becoming the first openly transgender female to compete at the Olympics, but failed to make a successful lift in the women’s +87kg weightlifting event. Video / Sky Sport
Laurel Hubbard made history in Tokyo on Monday night, becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, but failed to make a successful lift in the women’s +87kg weightlifting event.
Hubbard came into the Games with a realistic chance at a medal, having placed sixth at the last World Championships.
However, she failed to fire a shot despite all three of her attempts at the snatch being well below her personal best.
In a rare media appearance after her exit, Hubbard thanked Games organisers, saying she “was not entirely unaware of the controversy surrounding my participation”.
“I’d just particularly like to say thank you so much to the people of Japan for hosting the Olympics under such extraordinary circumstances,” Hubbard told reporters.
“I think we sort of all know the sacrifices that have been made and the situation in Japan, and so to press on as the hosts have and deliver such an extraordinary event is so commendable. And so if I could just thank the Japanese people, the Japanese government for making this possible.
“I am not entirely unaware of the controversy which surrounds my participation at these Games. And as such, I would particularly like to thank the IOC for, I think, really affirming its commitment to the principles of Olympism and establishing that sport is something for all people, it is inclusive, accessible.
“Similarly I would like to thank the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). They have been extraordinarily supportive. I think that they, too, have shown that weightlifting is an activity that’s open to all the people of the world.”
Hubbard’s first attempt – at 120kg – was a disappointing start for the Kiwi who was forced to let the bar drop behind her in the squat. Too much movement in bringing the bar overhead proved to be her undoing at a weight 12kg below her career-best.
Then came her best shot at recording a successful lift. At an increased weight of 125kg, Hubbard got to her feet this time and seemed to have raised the bar above her head, albeit shakily. However, two red lights from the judges meant what appeared to be a successful effort was ruled out.
Television commentators at the arena expressed their surprise that no appeal was lodged from Hubbard’s team, who accepted the decision and result.
“It’s been failed two-to-one. I fear there was movement in the right elbow. There’s shaking in the arms, but it’s not overly obvious,” one commentator said.
“I’m surprised they haven’t played a replay card. It’s not an obvious press-out. I’m very surprised they haven’t played the appeal card, Team New Zealand.”
That meant Hubbard’s Olympic campaign was on the line in her third attempt and she just never looked to have the power to get the 125kg above her head with any ease, the bar once again slipping behind her head as she tried to exit the squat.
The gold medal was won by China’s Wenwen Li, with Emily Campbell (Great Britain), and Sarah Robles (US) claiming silver and bronze respectively.
Asked about her three failed attempts, Hubbard said she was “overwhelmed” by the big stage.
“If anything I think I was just overwhelmed by the excitement of being on the Olympic platform. It’s such a truly special place, not just for weightlifters. I think for any Olympic athlete, competing at this level just unlocks a certain amount of adrenaline and I think I might have just over-cooked it slightly tonight,” she told Sky Sport.
“I’m so grateful. That injury that I had back in 2018 [during the Commonwealth Games] was so traumatic that I never thought I would compete again and, consequently, everything that’s happened since then has just been a bonus and I think that’s why it’s hard for me to be too disappointed tonight.
“Because it’s something I never expected would be possible. I’m not sure it’s possible for any person to really block out everything that’s happening in the world, but you just do what you can and get on with it.
“I know that from a sporting perspective I haven’t really hit the standards that I put upon myself and perhaps the standards that my country expects of me,” Hubbard told The Age a short while later.
“But one of the things for which I am so profoundly grateful is I have supporters in New Zealand who have just given me so much love and encouragement.”
Hubbard’s participation has been a controversial topic. Australia’s weightlifting federation tried to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a ploy that was rejected by organisers, while British television personality Piers Morgan said her selection and approval was a “disaster for women’s sport”.
However, speaking ahead of Hubbard’s historic appearance, the International Olympic Committee’s medical chief Richard Budgett says her inclusion cannot be argued.
“To put it in a nutshell, the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015,” he told a news conference on Friday.
“There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”
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Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013 but didn’t compete internationally.
On Saturday, Hubbard issued her first statement on her inclusion earlier this year.
In the brief message, she thanked the IOC for her selection in Tokyo.
“I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible,” she said.