By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
For the months leading up to these Olympics, one of the biggest anticipated events was the official debut of an openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic games. Despite transgender athletes being allowed to compete at the Olympics since 2003, it wasn’t until this year that an athlete had officially qualified to compete. Not just one athlete though, three athletes. Team USA’s first non-binary athlete, skateboarder, Alana Smith; Canadian Footballer Quinn and New Zealand Weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard. Monday, August 2nd was a big day for both Quinn and Laurel Hubbard.
Quinn, who is a member of the Canadian women’s football team became the first out trans athlete to compete at an Olympics when the football tournament started just days before the opening ceremonies. During that time, Team Canada has proven itself to be quite formidable as a medal contender, beating out the US Women’s National Team in the semifinals on this Monday. This means that Team Canada, including midfielder Quinn, will move onto the gold medal final and thus, regardless of the outcome of that final, Quinn will be the world’s first openly transgender Olympic medalist.
Of course, this isn’t the first Olympic medal for Quinn, who competed for Team Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio that took home a bronze. But to compete openly and being embraced by their team has been an important part of this journey, not just for Quinn but for trans and non-binary athletes all over the world.
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Now the big news (and controversy) going into this Olympics has been centered on New Zealand Weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard. Hubbard was a top contender going into this game and was considered one of the most obvious choices to be named to New Zealand’s Olympic Team for the last year. Unfortunately, this brought out the anti-trans bigots and armchair experts from the woodwork that lead to some very heated and vitriol discussions on social media about “biology”, “fairness” and “trans women dominating women’s sports” including harmful depictions and parodies that have perpetuated these myths. While none of these arguments have any real valid evidence to support their case, it has continued to surround the narrative to try and take away from Hubbard’s Olympic moment. However, despite all of this extra drama, much of which was well anticipated by Hubbard and the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Hubbard made her official Olympic debut on Monday.
For Hubbard, who has stayed off social media and away from the drama, all she wanted to do was lift and she did. Her Olympic journey, while historic, did not make it to the medal round. Of course, being an Olympian isn’t about winning a medal, it’s about the journey and for that, given all she has gone through, makes Laurel Hubbard a champion. Competing in the 87kg+ women’s division, Hubbard made it to the final round that involved completing successful lifts of incremental weights in the snatch and the clean and jerk. Unfortunately, she was not able to complete a 120kg nor a 125kg snatch which meant she could not proceed to the clean and jerk, ending her Olympic competition. As Hubbard gracefully bowed out, she received a standing ovation from the crowd of competitors, coaches, volunteers, officials, and spectators. For Hubbard, the excitement of the journey was not lost, as she finally achieved her dream of becoming an Olympian.
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Now, I’ve done several articles on this and have made my position very clear. Transgender athletes, like Hubbard, do not have any kind of “unfair advantage” over their cisgender counterparts that can be solely attributed to their transition. Hubbard’s Olympic performance furthers that argument and completely dismantles the entire notion of “trans athletes dominating women’s sports.” Forget all the arguments of “biology” and such. Instead, look at the results from the Women’s 87kg+ Olympic competition itself. Hubbard went up against 13 other competitors in her division and attempted a snatch at both 120kg and 125kg which she failed to complete (and thus, not progressing onto the Clean and Jerk). If she had completed the 125kg lift, she would’ve been tied for third place with South Korea’s Lee Seon-mi and behind Team GB’s Emily Campbell who lifted 128kg and China’s Li Wenwen who lifted 140kg. While she would’ve been in medal contention at that point, her result was Not “dominating” nor the result of any “unfair advantage” as she was simply competitive to the same level as those other cisgender athletes. Since she did not compete in the Clean and Jerk, we can’t know for sure how would have faired in the final score, but we can look at her previous competition results to get an idea. Hubbard’s personal best performance, in terms of total weight lifted/score, was at the 2019 World Championships in Pattaya, Thailand where she finished in 6th place. During that competition, her highest weight in the snatch was at 131kg which, if she had lifted the same in Tokyo, would have placed her in 2nd. Her highest weight in the Clean and Jerk was 154kg, which had she lifted the same weight in Tokyo, would have placed her tied for third with Team USA’s Sarah Robles. She finished the 2019 World Championships with a total weight of 285kg lifted, which had she repeated that performance, would have won her a silver, only 2kgs above Team GB’s Emily Campbell and 3kgs above Team USA’s Sara Robles but 35kgs below China’s Li Wenwen. Of course, this is only speculative based on her previous results, but since she did not complete the lifts in the snatch to move forward in the competition, we can say that her transition has not inferred her any kind of so called “advantage.”
Despite her performance, Hubbard’s performance has inspired many LGBTIA+ and especially trans/non-binary athletes in that it is possible to make it to the Olympics, that transgender athletes have a place at the world’s highest level of sport, and that they are just as fallible as any other athlete. The Olympic mantra “it’s not the destination, but the journey” reminds us that the road paved by Smith, Quinn and Hubbard is opening up a whole new generation of young transgender and non-binary athletes to go even further.