Academic sees Hubbard as a trailblazer

Laurel Hubbard represented New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Photo:...
Photo: Getty
Laurel Hubbard’s historic appearance at the Olympics may be one of those events we look back on in 20 years and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Hubbard became the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics when she contested the women’s 87kg-plus weightlifting earlier this week.

She was considered a strong medal prospect but missed all three of her snatches and was eliminated from the competition.

The 43-year-old, who transitioned from male to female eights years ago, bowed out with grace.

While a reluctant trailblazer, she told reporters culture was changing and ‘‘there are opportunities for people to be out in the world and do things just as other people do’’.

University of Otago academic Dr Althea Gamble Blakey, who is an Otago Medical School professional practice fellow and research fellow for the higher education development centre, compared Hubbard’s Olympic appearance to that of Kathrine Switzer’s historic run in the Boston Marathon.

Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor when she competed in 1967.

The attitude at the time was women were too fragile to run the distance and were denied entry.

But Switzer noted there was no mention of gender in the rule book and entered under her official Amateur Athletic Union number.

It turned into an ordeal.

Race manager Jock Semple attempted to tear off Switzer’s number and prevent her from running. But run she did and in doing so helped create a platform for change.

‘‘My dream would be to reach a place and time that these issues are respected and discussed, but ultimately moot in that we treat everyone fairly and equitably,’’ Gamble Blakey said.

‘‘Laurel Hubbard could then simply go about her business being a world-class athlete.’’

Gamble Blakey hopes Hubbard’s achievement will help ease the way for people to live more authentically and participate in high-performance sport.

‘‘I’d like to hope so, but in practice these things are complex. Imagine entering a room and being the immediate topic of conversation, and then doing that on the world platform.

‘‘Laurel has had to contend with this kind of never-ending stress at the same time as working damn hard to be one of the best weightlifters in the world.

‘‘We should be encouraged, yes, but the work that needs to go on at a societal and personal level still needs great attention.’’

The intensely private Hubbard said she was now ready to step away from the spotlight.

‘‘Age has caught up with me,’’ Hubbard told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.

‘‘If we’re being honest, it probably caught up with me some time ago.

‘‘My involvement in sport is probably due, if nothing else, to heroic amounts of anti-inflammatories, and it’s probably time for me to start thinking about hanging up the boots and concentrating on other things in my life.’’

Hubbard praised the IOC for showing ‘‘moral leadership’’ in adopting inclusive policies that allowed her to participate at the Games.

‘‘I’m not sure that a role model is something I could ever aspire to be. Instead I hope that just by being I can provide some sense of encouragement.

‘‘Although we have rules at the moment, they will no doubt change and evolve as more is known about transgender athletes and what that means for participation in sport.’’