TOKYO, BRATISLAVA. He is going to Japan with the knowledge that he will write Olympic history. Among other things, Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealander, will become the oldest participant in weightlifting disciplines at the age of 43.
However, her participation will also be a controversial premiere for the Olympic Games. She will compete under the five laps as the first transgender athlete.
Successful even as a man
Hubbard was born in Auckland, where her father, a successful businessman, later became mayor. She completed the gender reassignment process eight years ago. At the age of 35, she competed among men under the name Gavin Hubbard.
Gavin has had a relatively successful career by local standards, even setting several New Zealand records in his junior times, and lifting 300 kilograms in doubles.
At the international level, however, he established himself more significantly as a woman, and even after forty he is one of the best.
Laurel won at prestigious events Hubbardová in 2017 and 2019 six gold medals, at the 2017 World Championships in the USA she won silver. Two years later, she finished with a personal maximum of 285 pounds sixth.
In 2018, she was injured at the Commonwealth Games when she tore her ligaments in her elbow. She even threatened to end her career.
“When I injured my hand three years ago, they told me that my sports career was probably over. I am grateful for the kindness and support that so many New Zealanders have given me, “she said after the announcement of the nomination to Tokyo.
He got to the Olympics thanks to changed rules, but also reduced qualification criteria, which were taken care of by the coronavirus pandemic. He will start in the category of women over 87 kilograms.
The rules were set before Rio
Participation under the five circles was made possible by the Hubbard standards set for transgender people by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2015 before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The main indicator is the level of testosterone in the blood, which must not exceed the limit of 10 nanomolar per liter during the year before the peak event. A healthy adult male usually waves three times this value.
However, the limits also vary across disciplines, in many of which Hubbard would not be able to start with her values.
“Until 2015, the rules were very vague, virtually none. There were no data at the time and we did not know how male sex hormones affected an athlete’s performance. Therefore, until we knew how to substantiate it, a line was made so that the inclusion of such athletes could be allowed, “explained Jiří Dostal from the Sports Medicine Center for the DVTV portal.
Laurel Hubbard’s transrode weightlifter. (Author: TASR / AP)
Critics point out that the rules do not take into account the natural advantage of transgender athletes who have undergone physical development as men, especially at puberty. As a result, women outperform in strength, speed and endurance. Insufficient setting of rules is also confirmed by experts.
“Today we already know that the average athlete is 30 to 40 percent stronger than an athlete, and 10 to 20 percent faster. At that time, the boundaries were determined only purely mathematically, “points out Dostal.
“Now we know that lowering testosterone levels leads to some immediate changes. But you won’t change anything. Hemoglobin levels will change in a few weeks, but it only has a quarter of the 30 or 40 percent effect on strength. Therefore, the limit should no longer apply today, but there is still no other rule, “he added.
Is it unfair?
Hubbard has been calling for several years controversial reactions. When he won gold at the Pacific Games in Samoa, the head of the weightlifting association there said it was like allowing athletes to dope.
Before the Commonwealth Games, the Australian Federation sought to eliminate it. Its representatives even wanted to sue Hubbard, they are still writing a petition before the Olympic Games.
“Hubbard has a physiological and thus a mental advantage over her opponents. He can’t compete with them on the same level, “said Michael Keelan, the head of Australian weightlifters at the time.
“Weightlifting is a power sport and the predisposition to building muscle plays an important role in it. If you have the right hormones in your body, you are lifting more pounds. ”
Hubbard’s opponents from the Olympics also feel unfair. And again, they wrote petitions, but without success.
“Transgender people have my full support, but anyone who practices weightlifting knows that this situation is unfair to other athletes and to sport as a whole. I understand that this is not easy for officials. However, this looks like a bad joke, “said Anna van Bellinghen, a representative of Belgium from the most difficult category.
Laurel Hubbard injured in 2018 at the Commonwealth Games. (Author: SITA / AP)
Even according to the doctor, transgender athletes have a clear advantage over their colleagues. Hubbard trained for physiological aspects of the male body until she was 35 years old.
“Major changes took place a long time ago, at puberty. A man who grew up as a man remains in the vast majority of his physiological and sports-physical parameters as a man for life. There is a clear advantage that others cannot have, “said Dostal.
Medals have been taken in the past
According to the sports doctor, the topic of inclusion of transgender people is evolution rather than revolution.
“The first cases were in the late 1990s, then the topic subsided and the last two or three years have been resolved,” he says.
However, similar cases have occurred in the past. In Czechoslovakia, the example of Zdena Koubková is known, who in the 1930s was the multiple holder of the world record in the 80 and 800 meters. As a 23-year-old, she was operated on for a man; a few years later, her success was annulled and the results were canceled.
The story of Zdeněk Koubek is also told by Lída Merlínová’s novel from 1935 Zdenin’s world record. The film is also well known Erik a Erika from 2018, which describes a true story from the 1960s about the successful skier Erika Schinegger, whose hormonal and doping control at the Olympics proved to be genetically male.
South African athlete Caster Semenya (Author: TASR / AP)
In recent years, the case of South African athlete Caster Semenya, who won medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, is known. She could not start at the World Championships because she refused to undergo a reduction in blood testosterone levels.
“It’s a hyperandrogenism syndrome. It is a disorder of metabolism at the level of testosterone receptors, testosterone production, or tumors or abnormalities in the hormonal system, “explains doctor Dostal.
“Unlike transgender people, a man is born with a male karyotype, but as a girl, he looks and perceives himself as a woman. At puberty, instead of menses, he begins to have androgenic features. But there is no gender reassignment. “
The topic must be discussed
It will probably not be possible to set the rules fairly. “It’s a multifactorial question; partly cultural, partly social, highly ethical, certainly medical and sports political. The question is whether we are more in favor of justice or inclusion. Whether there is more the right of one athlete, or the rights of the others, or how much the rights are trampled between them, “continues Dostal.
He acknowledges that the protection of the female category and the inclusion of transgender people only among men are also being discussed in international fora. In that case, however, they would be disadvantaged.
“If someone wins a medal, it means that someone else will not win it. And those influenced athletes are not three, but everyone else, “Dostal tells DVTV. “There should be a professional, non-emotional discussion on how we define each sport category.”
After all, Hubbard may not be the only transgender athlete in Tokyo.
The substitute in the BMX cycling team is Chelsea Wolf, the American long-distance runner Megan Youngren can still qualify, and Tifanny Abreu is a wider selection of the Brazilian volleyball team.