TOKYO — When Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weight lifter from New Zealand, makes her first attempt in the women’s heavyweight competition on Monday, she will become the first openly transgender female athlete to compete at the Olympics.
Yet she will do so amid a debate over whether she should be at the Games at all.
Athletes, advocates for women’s sports and fair-sport campaigners have questioned whether Hubbard, who competed in men’s competitions before quitting the sport more than a decade ago, has an unfair advantage. Others believe the Games’ binary categories fail to account for a diverse group of athletes.
Hubbard, who rarely speaks to the news media, declined a request for comment. But in 2017, she told Radio New Zealand that she did not see herself as a flag bearer for transgender athletes.
“It’s not my role or my goal to change people’s minds,” Hubbard said. “I would hope they would support me, but it’s not for me to make them do so.”
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.
“She’s an athlete,” Smith said in an interview on Friday. “She wants to come here and perform and achieve her Olympic dream and ambition.”
Supporters of transgender athletes cheered her arrival.
“This moment is incredibly significant for the trans community, for our representation in sport and for all trans people and nonbinary kids to see themselves and know that sport is a place for them,” said Chris Mosier, a race walker who in 2020 became the first openly transgender man to compete in a U.S. Olympic trials.
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