ANAHEIM, Calif. — Concerns are being raised after a 39-year-old man who identifies as a woman became the first New Zealander to earn a medal at the annual World Weightlifting Championships, held this year in California.
As previously reported, Gavin Hubbard of New Zealand spent over 30 years living as a man and competing in men’s weightlifting competitions, but when he was in his mid-30’s he decided to begin identifying as a woman. Earlier this year, he won first place in a women’s weightlifting competition in Australia, lifting 591lbs and breaking four international records in the process.
Due to a 2015 rule change from the International Olympic Committee, men who identify as women may participate in women’s sporting competitions as long as their testosterone levels remain under a certain threshold for 12 months before the competitions, even though sports scientists say men who qualify have a natural advantage over their female competitors.
On Tuesday, the 39-year-old Hubbard finished second in the women’s super-heavyweights at the World Weightlifting Championships in California, lifting 606lbs. Although he avoided reporters immediately after the games, the transgender athlete later sat down for an interview with a reporter from the New Zealand news website Stuff.
“I’m mindful I won’t be supported by everyone,” he said, “but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context.”
Advising that he has “fantastic support” from New Zealand’s weightlifting program, Hubbard said he plans to participate in additional competitions in the future.
“All we can do is keep on pushing,” he remarked.
However, not everyone was pleased with Hubbard’s presence in the women’s weightlifting games. Tim Swords, coach of first-place finisher Sarah Robles, claimed “nobody” wanted Hubbard to win and said he wasn’t surprised that the New Zealand weightlifter avoided speaking with reporters in Anaheim.
“She stayed away [from interviews] because she was embarrassed, probably,” he said, according to a report from Stuff. “There was no controversy between the lifters about her presence here, but there was between some of the coaching staffs.”
“I hope the [International Olympic Committee does] something about it because this is really going to hurt our sport in the long run,” the American coach added. “I’m not comfortable with it at all.”
Mohamed Hosnytaha, coach of the Egyptian bronze medallist Shaimaa Khalaf, also believes Hubbard had an unfair advantage over the female competitors.
“We didn’t agree with it, with somebody who was a man for so long, who has different hormones, different feelings,” he stated. “It is not fair and we asked the [International Weightlifting Federation] how come she can compete after only one year of showing her [testosterone] levels.”
Michael Keelan, chief executive of Australian Weightlifting Federation, expressed similar concerns.
“We’re in a power sport, which is normally related to masculine tendencies,” he told the Australian Associated Press. “I don’t think it’s a level playing field. That’s my personal view and I think it’s shared by a lot of people in the sporting world.”