Peter Williams: Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard should be allowed to compete without being abused

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Laurel Hubbard's problem is that she's good at her sport.

Well, in this part of the world anyway.

Laurel Hubbard set new national records in the snatch and clean and jerk, beating her nearest competitor in Melbourne by 19 kilos.
Source: 1 NEWS

But before we get too carried away about what an unfair advantage she has, we should put her most recent performance into some sort of competitive perspective. I can do that soon.

First though to the issue of transgender athletes.  It's both confronting and confusing.

But it's not new.

Forty two years ago, in 1975, an American tennis player – and doctor - Richard Raskind transitioned from male to female and became Renee Richards.

She applied to play in the US Open Women's singles and was refused. The US Tennis Association insisting that entrants in their tournament could only play in the events for the gender they were born.

Richards took the case to the New York State court, citing Human Rights law.

Two years later she won and played in the US Open Women’s singles and doubles from 1977 to 1981.  Actually, she made the 1977 doubles final, but her best result in singles was the 3rd round of 1979.

A similar situation evolved in women’s golf around the turn of the millennium. Danish born Australian Mianne Bagger (she’s never divulged her birth name) had sex reassignment surgery at the age of 19, became a good amateur player in South Australia and turned pro in 2003.

She applied to play on both the Ladies European Tour and the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour.

The catalyst for her application being approved was the International Olympic Committee’s 2004 Stockholm Census  which spells out specific requirements for a transitioned athlete – including the amount of testosterone in one’s body.

Laurel Hubbard will compete in the women's over 90kg group, despite raging debate about her participation.
Source: 1 NEWS

In 2010 the US LPGA, the richest tour in women’s golf, also relented and golfers born as men may now compete on the LPGA Tour.

But despite their seemingly obvious advantages of strength and power, neither Richards nor Bagger  - or any other transitioned athlete – has come anywhere near the top of their sport.

They showed that with golf and tennis real technical ability combined with a high level of mental skills are the key ingredients to success - rather than just raw power.

But it's a bit different with weightlifting. The sport is about strength and power, and not much else.

That's why the calls about Laurel Hubbard having an unfair advantage have reached a crescendo.

But let’s get one thing clear. She is abiding by the rules, as set down by the IOC all those years ago.

Therefore she should be allowed to compete without being abused.

 However, her results on Sunday night suggest she still has a long way to go to be a serious gold medal contender at the Commonwealth Games next year.  

She competes in the 90 kilograms and over division.

On Sunday her combined total in Melbourne for the snatch followed by the clean and jerk was 268 kgs.

At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the heaviest division for women was 75 kilos and over. The winner was Maryam Usman of Nigeria whose total was 280kgs. The silver went to Ele Opeloge of Samoa with 271kgs. New Zealand's Tracey Lambrechs was a long way back in third on 237kgs.

At the Olympics last year, the winning total for that same 75 kilogram plus division was 307 kilograms.

Ms Hubbard's total on Sunday night would have earned her a bronze medal in Glasgow but just 8th place in Rio.

Next year the 90 kilogram plus division is on the Commonwealth Games schedule and Laurel Hubbard will surely be New Zealand's representative.

But the numbers from Sunday night suggest she still has a long way to go to match the best in the Commonwealth, let alone the best in the world.

All I wish for is that she can continue to prepare for those games in just over 12 months with the dignity she deserves.

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