Laurel Hubbard Had Her Olympic Moment. Now She’d Like Her Privacy.
TOKYO – Laurel Hubbard made her lifelong dream come true by competing in the Olympic weightlifting competition. She also found the whole experience excruciating, an ordeal which Hubbard, 43, said on Tuesday she was happy was over.
Hubbard was catapulted around the world simply by being present at the Tokyo Games. As the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics, Hubbard, who for years intensely protected her privacy, received the kind of attention usually reserved for the biggest names in the Games, towering sports figures like gymnast Simone. Biles and the Japanese tennis star. Naomi Osaka.
Since her place at the Olympics was confirmed, Hubbard has found herself at the center of a global conversation, a lightning rod for a deeply polarizing debate about gender, inclusiveness and equity in sport. By competing in the weightlifting competition, Hubbard has become the history maker, a title that weighs heavily on a woman who says she wants nothing more than to disappear into the darkness of her native New Zealand.
This was made clear on Tuesday morning when Hubbard sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss his Olympic experience. Speaking hesitantly, in a register that at times bordered on little more than a whisper, Hubbard – who retired after the first half of the competition after failing to register a successful lift on one of his three attempts – discussed his discomfort with being the center of attention.
“These types of situations are always difficult for me because, as some of you may know, I have never done sports because I am looking for publicity, profile or exposure,” Hubbard said, squeezing her hands tightly as she spoke. “While I recognize that my involvement in sport is a subject of considerable interest to some, in some ways I can’t wait for this to be the end of my journey as an athlete and the attention that comes from it. . “
The attention and interest have been intense. In the weightlifting competition at the Tokyo International Forum on Monday, there were twice as many requests for press box seats as for seats. Hubbard’s mere presence had turned a competition that would normally have drawn marginal attention, and a handful of journalists, into a must-see moment.
But for Hubbard – the reluctant history maker – his trip to the Games has never been anything but athletic.
“I don’t think it should be historic,” Hubbard said of his participation in Tokyo. “As we enter a new and more understanding world, people are starting to realize that people like me are just people. We are human, and as such, I hope that just being here will be enough. “
“All I ever wanted as an athlete was to be seen as an athlete,” Hubbard added.
Hubbard quit lifting weights in her twenties because, she once told an interviewer, “it got too much to take” as she struggled to face her identity. She resumed competition in 2012, five years after her transition.
However, when she won three titles in 2017, her performances caused a storm on social media. His impending exit from the sport is unlikely to do much to dampen the debate over the eligibility of trans athletes. The International Olympic Committee has said it will issue updated guidelines on the matter later this year.
Either way, Hubbard’s experience may be of benefit to those who follow it. Although she has said she avoids the idea of being a role model for athletes and transgender issues, Hubbard is aware of what her achievements mean for a community that remains marginalized.
“I don’t know what a role model is, it’s something that I could aspire to be,” Hubbard said. “Instead, I hope that just by being here I can provide a feeling of encouragement.”
And with that, she was gone. She had immediately returned to New Zealand, she said, retiring to the privacy she cherishes with one wish: that her accomplishments be surpassed by the athletes who follow her.
“I really hope that over time the importance of this occasion will be diminished by the things to come,” she said.
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