GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — They said she was unbeatable.
They being the critics, but what they didn’t mention was that New Zealand’s transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was just as vulnerable to injury as any other competitor.
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 wider spread.
It’s something Hubbard said she appreciated.
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.