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TOKYO — At 43, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is nearly twice the average age of her Tokyo 2020 competitors. Having shifted 285kg in qualifying, she is also one of the strongest in the field.rr
On Monday (Aug 2) she will become the first openly transgender athlete to compete in an Olympics, and her participation has been as divisive an issue as whether the Games should have even gone ahead during a global pandemic.rr
Hubbard was born male but changed her name eight years ago and underwent hormone therapy to transition before resuming weightlifting, a sport she abandoned more than a decade ago.rr
Transgender rights advocates have applauded the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to allow, under certain criteria, athletes like Hubbard who identify as women to compete in women's events.rr
But some former athletes and activists believe her background gives her an unfair physiological advantage, and say her inclusion in the super-heavyweight 87+kg category undermines a protracted struggle for women to be treated equally in sport.rr
"Women have been able to have that competition for 16 years, and now you've got a male in there who likely take a spot on the podium and take a place that should be going deservedly to a female competitor," said Ms Katherine Deves, co-founder of Save Women's Sport Australasia.rr
Hubbard has not spoken with media since her place on the New Zealand team was confirmed, but in a statement on Friday she thanked the IOC "for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible."rr
'PAUCITY OF DATA'rr
The IOC cleared the way for transgender athletes to compete in Olympic women's events without gender reassignment surgery in 2015, provided their testosterone levels stayed below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.rr
The IOC took into consideration a research paper by Ms Joanna Harper, a transgender woman and amateur runner. Her preliminary study of eight transgender women athletes who underwent hormone therapy showed subsequent declines in performance.rr
Critics have dismissed the paper for being too narrow, an opinion Ms Harper agrees with, while insisting it was not the basis upon which the IOC made its decision.rr
She is currently furthering the study through quantitative research on trans athletes at Britain's Loughborough University.rr
"It's certainly true there's a paucity of data," Ms Harper said. "... International sports federations need to do the best they can with data that exists. When we have better data we'll come up with better policies."rr
Ms Harper's research aims to track trans athletes in different sporting categories, monitoring changes in areas like weight, strength, stamina and speed before and after hormone therapy.rr
It also sets out to compare transgender athletes with athletes born female who are of similar ages, sizes and abilities in a given sport.