Laurel Hubbard Is the First Transgender Olympic Athlete—Here's What to Know

Hubbard is making history at an already historic event. 

Laurel Hubbard | ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Laurel Hubbard | ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

To say the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games will be one for the ages would be an understatement. Not only were the Games postponed due to a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, they will also be held with little to no spectators in sight. Winners will even be asked to put on their own medals to stem the spread of COVID-19. But, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the 2020 Olympics (yep, they're still called that) making history. Just look to Olympic athlete Laurel Hubbard as proof.

In June, New Zealand selected Hubbard as one of its five Olympic weightlifters. What made it particularly noteworthy is the fact that Hubbard is now the first out transgender athlete selected to compete in the Olympic Games.

Here’s everything you need to know about Hubbard and her journey to the Games.

Who is Laurel Hubbard?

Hubbard is a 43-year-old athlete from Auckland who is rather press shy and rarely gives interviews. She is the first out transgender athlete and the oldest lifter at the Games. She’s set to compete in the over 87kg category, which for the Americans in the crowd, equates to about 192 pounds.

"I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in a statement about her selection to the team. "When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha [love] carried me through the darkness."

Hubbard is a long-time athlete. As the ISPO explains, Hubbard was already a well-established athlete in the late '90s and early 2000s, and has set several New Zealand records in the men’s field. She retired from active competition in 2001.

"I started weightlifting in the first place many years ago because it was archetypally male. And I thought to myself, if I do such a masculine sport, maybe I'll turn out that way. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case," Hubbard shared in a television interview.

After working for the New Zealand Weightlifting Federation for some time, Hubbard transitioned in 2012 and competed in the women’s category in 2016. She won silver at the World Championships in 2017 and gold at the Pacific Games in Samoa in 2019, followed by a win at the IWAF World Cup in 2020.

Beyond her major wins, the best fun fact about Hubbard is that her father is a former mayor and a wealthy cereal company founder, so you know she eats her (Olympic) Wheaties. 

What are the Olympic Committee rules around transgender athletes?

The International Olympic Committee shares in its rulebook, “The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition. Restrictions on participation are appropriate to the extent that they are necessary and proportionate to the achievement of that objective.”

The rulebook states, “Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.” However, those who transition from male to female are only eligible under the following conditions: 

  • The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.
  • The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition (with the requirement for any longer period to be based on a confidential case-by-case evaluation, considering whether or not 12 months is a sufficient length of time to minimize any advantage in women’s competition).
  • The athlete's total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category. 
  • Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility for female competition will be suspended for 12 months.

Kereyn Smith, New Zealand’s Olympic Committee chief, told reporters, Hubbard “is our first Olympian who has transitioned from male to female.” Smith added, "We do know that there are many questions about fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria."

Who is supporting Hubbard?

Beyond New Zealand’s Olympic Committee, the LGBTQIA+ community has come out in force to support Hubbard. Chris Mosier, a trans advocate and triathlete, tweeted, “Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete in the Olympics will be meaningful—to the trans community as a whole, but to me specifically, as I’ve spent over the last decade of my life trying to lay the groundwork for this moment.”

Even Hubbard’s competition is backing her up.

"She is a human being and she has qualified for this competition fairly like everyone else has, following rules that we all have to abide by," British weightlifter Emily Campbell told the Independent. "My performance will give me the place I achieve on the day. You have to be a great sportsman in this game, you have to perform in the way you can and give everyone equal respect." 

While Hubbard certainly has support, being a literal game-changer isn’t easy. It appears, however, that the criticism doesn't phase her.

"It's not my role or my goal to change people's minds," Hubbard said to Radio New Zealand. "I would hope they would support me, but it's not for me to make them do so."

How to watch Hubbard compete

The weightlifting competition is set to take place between July 24 to August 4, with Hubbard’s specific event slated for Monday, August 2. See the full lineup here, and learn how to stream all the Tokyo Olympic events with our handy guide here.

Check back during the games for all of Thrillist’s continuing Olympics coverage. Think of us like an all-knowing friend watching along with you to answer all the most important questions, like how heavy Olympic medals are, or why this year’s games are still called the 2020 Olympics. We'll explain everything from what ROC means to why athletes are sleeping on cardboard beds, and much, much more.

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Stacey Leasca is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trip Advisor, Departures, Expedia, Men’s Health, and Glamour, among other publications.