Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who was the first male-to-female transgender individual to compete in a women’s Olympic event, was named “Sportwoman of the Year” by New Zealand’s University of Otago despite being biologically male.
Hubbard made headlines earlier this year after qualifying for the women’s 87+ kilogram weightlifting competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, after testing below the threshold for competing as a female, with a testosterone level lower than “ten nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before the competition,” per Forbes.
Hubbard transitioned more than nine years ago and fell well under the threshold for the 2020 games. Previously, Hubbard had competed “for New Zealand as a 20-year-old junior male athlete,” according to news.com.au, transitioned, and then returned to compete as a female in 2017.
Hubbard is “grateful for all of the support and kindness received from the teaching staff and students at Otago University,” according to a statement the athlete released after learning of the award.
“It is not possible for athletes to complete at the Olympic level without the encouragement and aroha of friends, family and supporters. This award belongs to everyone who has been part of my Olympic journey,” Hubbard added, referencing a traditional Maori term meaning “compassion” or “love.”
Although Hubbard has made headlines for being the first transgender athlete to compete in a women’s Olympic event, Hubbard floundered in Olympic competition, failing to complete either lift.
“My performance wasn’t what I had hoped but I’m humbled by the support I’ve received from so many people around New Zealand,” Hubbard said at the time.
Hubbard indeed had the support of the New Zealand Olympic Committee even though male-to-female transgender individuals’ participation in women’s sports is a controversial topic.
“We acknowledge 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,” the NZOC said at the time, according to The Associated Press. “The New Zealand team is committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes at the Olympic Games, ensuring their mental and physical wellbeing as they compete on the world stage.”
Hubbard’s competitors refused to comment on the matter in a post-competition press conference.
The International Olympic Committee seemed determined to wait until after Hubbard competed to make definitive guidelines for male-to-female transgender individuals’ participation in women’s events. Although the IOC maintained the “ten nanomoles per liter” standard for transgender athletes competing at Tokyo — and there were several others, as well as at least one non-binary athlete — the IOC now says it plans to review those guidelines and update them for future Games.
“The IOC will release a new ‘framework’ for transgender athletes’ eligibility in the coming months,” The Associated Press noted. “That document is expected to take into account newer scientific studies published since the last major review in 2015. That will form a basis for sports to draw up their own updated policies.”
The next Olympic Games, the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, does not yet appear to have any transgender athletes competing.