New Zealand has announced it's sending five weightlifters to the Tokyo Games next month, and one of them in particular is making headlines for her groundbreaking Olympic debut. CNN reports that Laurel Hubbard will be the games' first transgender athlete, competing in the women's super-heavyweight 87-kilo category after qualifying under rules set by the International Olympic Committee, the International Weightlifting Federation, and the New Zealand Olympic Committee. The IOC updated its guidelines in 2015 to permit transgender athletes to compete as women, as long as their testosterone levels stayed under 10 nanomoles per liter for a year before their first competition. The inclusion of Hubbard, who competed as a male weightlifter before transitioning in 2013, has restarted the debate over athletes who went through puberty as males and are now competing as females.
Critics say that transgender athletes like Hubbard benefit from certain biological advantages, including greater bone density and muscle mass, per Reuters. Transgender advocates are pushing back, noting those advantages are reduced during an athlete's transition. Kereyn Smith, NZOC's CEO, says in the group's statement that "gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play," and that they "have a strong culture of ... inclusion and respect for all." The nation's sports minister, Grant Robertson, adds: "We are proud of [Hubbard], as we are of all our athletes, and will be supporting her all the way." Hubbard, meanwhile, who was told after a 2018 injury that her competing days may be over, says, "I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders." Reuters notes the 43-year-old will be the oldest lifter to compete in Tokyo. (Read more transgender stories.)