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Transgender weightlifter Hubbard injured in competition

April 9, 2018

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard reacts after failing to make a lift in the snatch of the women's +90kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, Monday, April 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — They said she was unbeatable.

But what they — being the critics — didn’t consider was that New Zealand’s transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was just as vulnerable to injury as any other athlete.

The 40-year-old Hubbard withdrew from Monday’s over 90-kilogram division after hurting her left elbow attempting a Commonwealth Games record lift of 132 kilograms in the snatch.

She had already cleared 120 kilograms with her first lift and was well ahead of Samoa’s Feagaiga Stowers when she over-extended, and the bar traveled behind her shoulders.

Hubbard’s presence, and status as gold-medal favorite, was one of the more contentious topics of the Commonwealth Games.

Since Hubbard became eligible to compete in international events at the start of last year, her involvement has polarized views in weightlifting.

What the critics may have got wrong, though, was the public reaction.

At Carrara Sports Arena, Hubbard was second only to Australia’s Deb Lovely-Acason in terms of crowd popularity when the athletes were introduced.

Sure, the Gold Coast region has one of the highest concentrations of New Zealanders living in Australia, but the support for Hubbard was much wider spread.

“The crowd was absolutely magnificent — I felt just like a big embrace and I wanted to give them something that reflected the best I could do,” Hubbard said of the positive reception she received, and her decision to push for a record. “I have no regret at the attempts because I believe to be true to sport you really have to try to be the best you can.

“I think you have to be true to yourself and I hope in this case this is what I have done. Happy with the decision I made.”

Hubbard said it was likely she’d ruptured a ligament and sustained “some fairly significant tissue damage.”

In Hubbard’s absence, Stowers won the gold with a total of 253, followed by Charisma Amoe-Tarrant of Nauru (243) and Emily Campbell of England (242).

The New Zealander will leave without a medal, but not entirely without good memories.

When asked if she was anxious about what kind of reaction she’d get when she entered the competition, Hubbard said “It would be untrue to say that the thought never crossed my mind.”

“But no indication today that they were anything other than fantastic,” she said, “A real credit to Australian people and broader sporting community.”

Leading into competition, the Samoa’s weightlifting head coach Jerry Wallwork said he was opposed to Hubbard competing at the games.

“A man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter,” Wallwork was quoted as saying.

Paul Coffa, secretary-general of the Oceania Weightlifting Institute, took a more conciliatory line when questioned about Hubbard’s transgender status.

“It is a very sensitive question. The fact is the government of New Zealand has given her a passport for a female,” he said. “She’s done everything according to the IOC rules.”

The Commonwealth Games Federation also defended Hubbard’s right to compete.

CGF chief executive David Grevemberg dismissed comments made by Wallwork.

“That’s one individual’s opinion and perspective ... there are probably plenty of opinions and perspectives,” Grevemberg said. “The federation’s position on this has been clear in terms of respecting the athlete’s right to compete, the rules of the international weightlifting federation in terms of their eligibility conditions.”

Grevemberg said what the International Olympic Committee was doing in regard to transgender athletes was still evolving but stressed Hubbard had met the qualification criteria.

“This is something that members have various opinions on and it’s something the weightlifting community needs to have some robust debate, discussion, on,” he said.

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