Injury Forces Transgender Weightlifter To Withdraw From Commonwealth Games

"Unless we try to be the best person, the best athlete we can be, then really we're not being true to sport."

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games on Monday after suffering an elbow injury.

Representing New Zealand, Hubbard had nailed 120kg in her first lift. But she twisted her elbow while attempting a record 132kg snatch and dropped the bar in pain. Citing a possible ruptured ligament, the 40-year-old athlete withdrew from the women’s +90k finals, where she was favorited to win. “It’s obviously a difficult time, but the one thing I’m happiest about is that I tried to reach for my best performance,” she told reporters. “This happens sometimes. That’s sport.”


Though she wasn’t in pain, Hubbard said, “I’m sure that will come with time.” Most importantly, she doesn’t regret going for the record.

“We can always go back and rerun these things in our heads, but the truth is, unless we try to be the best person, the best athlete we can be, then really we’re not being true to sport. I’m happy with the decisions I made to take those weights.”

Though she walked onto the platform to thunderous applause, her appearance at this year’s Games sparked controversy among other competitors and judges.

“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,” said Jerry Wallwork, head coach for Samoa’s weightlifting team. (With Hubbard’s withdrawal, 17-year-old Samoan lifter Feagaiga Stowers took the event.)

Proud to be a kiwi today with our first transgender athlete competing in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Go for gold Laurel Hubbard. Whilst she didn’t complete her round due to injury, she is a true champion of equality. There has been a lot of attention placed on Laurel because she is transgender both positive and negative, throughout the journey she has been a true professional, someone athletes regardless of identity should look up to. Both her journey and the way she has carried herself up to the Games has been inspiring. Laurel thank you for being visible, your actions today will change peoples perceptions of the transgender community and give strength and courage to others to live in their true identity. Medal or not today, you are a champion #proud #prideinsport #imwithher #transathlete #transisbeautiful #commonwealthgames2018 #GC2018 #laurelhubbard #champion #inspired #lgt #lgbt #laurelhubbard #sportisforeveryone #strongtransgenderwoman #pride #transnewzealand #rainbowathlete #transandproud #transsupporter

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Before transitioning, Hubbard was a national junior record-holder in the male 230lb weight class. Last fall, she was cleared by the International Olympic Committee and International Weightlifting Federation to compete against other female lifters in the 200lb class.

“I am glad that people can come out and live their lives and be happy,” said Tracey Lambrechs, who won bronze at the 2014 Games. “But when it comes to a professional sporting environment it gets a bit trickier. [She] is lifting a lot more than what the other women are… so personally I do think there is an unfair advantage even though it is within all the regulations.”

Australian Weightlifting Federation chief Michael Keelan even tried to have the ruling on Hubbard overturned. He claims her presence creates an uneven playing field.

“We’re in a power sport which is normally related to masculine tendencies… where you’ve got that aggression, you’ve got the right hormones, then you can lift bigger weights,” said Keelan. “If you’ve been a male and you’ve lifted certain weights and then you suddenly transition to a female, then psychologically you know you’ve lifted those weights before.”

Still, Hubbard maintains she was treated with dignity and support.

“The Commonwealth Games are a model for what sport can and should be. It’s an incredible environment and an amazing atmosphere.”

Held April 4 to 15 in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, the Commonwealth Games see top athletes from former and current British colonies competing in dozens of sports.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.