— FloElite (@Flo_Elite) March 20, 2017
Laurel Hubbard made history this weekend by becoming the first transgender female to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand. But her victory in the over-90-kilogram division, in which she lifted a combined total of 268 kilograms (roughly 590 pounds) to best silver medalist Iuniarra Sipaia of Samoa by 19 kilograms (roughly 42 pounds), was not without controversy.
Despite a year’s worth of blood tests showing Hubbard had no more testosterone running through her veins than any of the other female weightlifters competing in the Australian International this weekend, some of those Hubbard beat questioned the fairness of the competition.
“If I was in that category I wouldn’t feel like I was in an equal situation,” two-time Olympian Deborah Acason, who competes at the 75-kilogram level, told New Zealand news site Stuff. “I just feel that if it’s not even, why are we doing the sport?”
Tracey Lambrechs, who competed for New Zealand at the Rio Olympics last summer, dropped weight classes to avoid facing Hubbard, who would have taken Lambrechs’s Olympic spot had she been ready to compete in the Olympic qualifying events last year.
“I’m more than happy that she has become a female, I have no problem with that as everybody needs to do what they need to do to be happy with life,” Lambrechs told New Zealand’s RadioLIVE (via Newshub) earlier this month. “Personally I think they should be able to compete, but they shouldn’t be able to take spots from other female athletes.”
Those competing directly against Hubbard also had concerns.
“She is who she is,” Australian Kaitlyn Fassina, who won bronze behind Hubbard and Sipaia, told Stuff. “That’s the way the politics … and what the New Zealanders have decided. I can’t say much more than that. She is seen as female and that’s the way it is.”
According to the IOC, Hubbard, who previously competed as a man, is a woman. Under guidelines recommended in November 2015, the IOC no longer requires transgender women to undergo surgery then wait two years. Now, a transgender woman need only to wait 12 months after starting hormone replacement therapy and demonstrate that her testosterone levels are within acceptable limits.
Hubbard, 39, began her transition in her mid-30s, according to the New Zealand Herald.
“We have to follow the policy of the International Olympic Committee and the International Weightlifting Federation,” Garry Marshall, president of Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, told the Herald. “They do not acknowledge in any way the gender identity of an athlete other than male or female; they’re not described as transgender.”
Hubbard’s win now puts her in line to represent New Zealand at the 2018 Gold Cost Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Hubbard’s been quiet about her success, refusing to comment on what appeared to be an emotional win. One of her teammates told Stuff that Hubbard was feeling “overwhelmed.”
According to the Herald, Hubbard fought back tears as she waited to collect her medal after the competition on Sunday. She was able to remain calm, the paper said, and smiled and waved to the applauding crowd from atop the podium.