Tokyo Olympics 2020: World reacts to Laurel Hubbard’s historic Games feat

Kiwi Laurel Hubbard made history in Tokyo on Monday night, becoming the first openly transgender individual athlete to compete at the Olympics.

However, she failed to make a successful lift in the women’s +87kg weightlifting event, despite all three attempts at the snatch being well below her personal best.

Hubbard said she may have been “overwhelmed” by the occassion.

But she bowed out of the competition with dignity and a heart-shaped gesture to those in attendance, despite controversy surrounding her eligibility to compete.

Here’s how the world reacted to Hubbard’s historic feat in Tokyo.

'Hubbard exits Olympic stage with dignity' – Daily Mail

“There was an almighty splash and then the tiniest of waves. If Laurel Hubbard is the beginning of the end for the female category in sport then it truly is a takeover by stealth,” Riath Al-Samarrai wrote for the Daily Mail.

“…The controversy that has hovered over these Games for a couple of years and escalated since it was confirmed in June that a transgender athlete would be here and having a go.
“There isn’t much safe ground to be found in that debate. Too many shouters on both sides. Too many who would trenchantly back a precedent that disregards women who want to compete fairly, and too many who would forget there is a human at the heart of all this.

“Easy answers? Only landmines.

“And so perhaps it was about right that there was no convenient, tidy yarn to drift down from the red stage of the Tokyo International Forum, at the epicentre of this quake. It would have been all too clean, not to mention a little cheap, to build the argument if a lifter who went by the name of Gavin until the age of 35 out-muscled the other women as Laurel.

“That didn’t happen, though. Hubbard, 43, finished last, the only woman out of 10 who failed to complete a single lift. She tried once at 120kg and the bar dropped behind her, and twice she went for 125kg and couldn’t snatch that either.

“Then she did a little wave, mouthed a thank you to one of the largest gatherings of these Olympics, and exited stage right with the utmost dignity.

“Her defeat is not the point. It was never about the results so much as the principle, and the risks to fair play caused by these circumstances. In a painful row with no obvious right answers, some are quite possibly less wrong than others, and it is hard to shake the instinct that the entire female category requires more protection purely by weight of numbers.

“Still, one has to admire Hubbard in all this, and sympathise too because she has stood at the middle of a frenzied intersection between sport, science and gender politics.”

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'Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard's night ended early, but she made Olympic history' – ESPN

“The room went mostly silent by the time she bent down to lift the weight, aside from the endless shuttering of hundreds of cameras documenting her every move. She had the undivided attention of everyone in the room,” wrote ESPN’s D’Arcy Maine.

“Hubbard’s arms shook as she tried to lift the weight, but she was unable to get it above her head. It bounced to the floor. But it didn’t matter: She had made history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete in the sport at the Olympic Games.

“Hubbard’s inclusion had been contentious and hotly debated in the weeks since she secured her spot on New Zealand’s team, but the palpable support in the Tokyo Forum on Monday masked all that. There was none of the vitriol so frequently seen online, just applause and cheers inside the venue — and an audible buzz that has been nearly impossible to find elsewhere during these fanless Olympic Games.

“Hubbard knew the moment was bigger than herself.”

'Transgender weightlifter Hubbard makes history at Olympics' – AP

“It didn’t last long but it was significant,” wrote James Ellingworth and Sally Ho of the Associated Press. “Hubbard couldn’t complete any of her first three lifts on Monday night, ruling her out of medal contention in the women’s over-87-kilogram division that ultimately was won by China’s Li Wenwen.”

“Even without completing a lift, she was a pioneer for transgender athletes,” the AP report went on.

'Laurel Hubbard – an important first step' – DW

“The load was too heavy in the end. It is difficult to say which part is due to the weights on the bar and which to the discussions about her own life choices. The New Zealander who officially became the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics,” Sarah Wiertz, editor of German publication DW wrote.

“In doing so, the 43-year-old challenged not only her weightlifting competitors, but the entire sport. A sport that – except for a few disciplines – is based on a two-gender system and thus excludes certain groups of people.

“No other area of our society is so entrenched in a binary system. After all sport needs categories and rules to suggest fair competition.

“…If the issue of transgender rights weas really about fairness, there should be talk and discussion not only about the supposed advantages of trans athletes, but also about the supposed disadvantages of trans athletes. Or about the psychological burdens placed on trans people by surgery, hormone therapy, and societal discrimination. All of which can have a huge impact on success in competitive sports.

“Transgender athletes, at least top athletes like Laurel Hubbard, force us to question the anachronistic two-gender norm, as well as the criteria of fairness, and challenge us to look at a new and contemporary direction for sport. One that shows there’s success beyond medals.”

'Sport must confront gender debate after Laurel Hubbard's brief moment in the spotlight' – Independent

“In the end it didn’t feel particularly historic, but then perhaps it was better this way. The world would not have allowed Hubbard to be an Olympic champion, not in the way her dreams played out anyway,” Lawrence Ostlere wrote for the Independent.

“Sport must now confront its relationship with gender. For a long time sport has been divided into two categories of men and women, so that women who do not have the physiological advantages of male puberty might compete on an equal footing with one another. But the reality is that not every athlete identifies with or fits neatly into those boxes. At the same time, non-transgender women raise concerns about fairness after more than half a century fighting for a proper platform in sport alongside men.

“It is a complex picture, and anyone with a granite opinion on the subject of gender in sport either does not understand the nuance or is not willing to try. The one thing which everyone can agree on is that the current system is a mess. There is too much inconsistency: Hubbard took testosterone-suppressants which allowed her to compete in weightlifting but other events would not have accepted her because she transitioned within the last 10 years.

“Meanwhile athletes with differences in sex development (DSD) do not know whether they are coming or going. Caster Semenya was blocked from defending her 800m title but was allowed to try for the 5000m, a distance not subject to new testosterone rules. She failed to qualify and has effectively been forced out of the Olympics for good.

“It is this muddle that sport’s governing bodies must solve. Solutions are not easy or obvious but they must include trans people and recognise them as athletes. An ‘open’ category has been mooted but that would bring its own challenges, not least for athletes living in places where the transgender community and people with DSD are persecuted. The Olympics’ medical director Richard Budgett admits that the current piecemeal system is “outdated”, and by the next Games there are likely to be a whole new raft of rules.

“Whether or not they include Hubbard, she might not be back; she never wanted the spotlight anyway. But if her fleeting Olympic moment showed someone, somewhere, that sport can be for people like them too, then it was not for waste.”

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