Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard has had more attention and more written about her than most others here at the Tokyo Games.

She is a New Zealand weightlifter, an athlete, a woman, a transgender woman.

It is this last category that is attracting all the attention and has had media seats at the women's 87+ kilogram category oversubscribed by 300 per cent.

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When Hubbard failed to register a single successful lift and finished last, many of them raced after her to grab a few words in the mixed zone and then didn't come back to see the rest of the competition.

Laurel Hubbard wearing black tights screams with her arms in the air
New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard fails to make a lift at the Tokyo Olympics.(

Getty Images: Wally Skalij

)

Not wanting to sound crude, it was like spectators at a circus. And yet, meeting the notoriously reclusive Hubbard reveals she is only extraordinary in her ordinariness.

She is just another human being trying to make her way in a complex world and is incredibly uncomfortable with her place in history that we have all bestowed upon her.

"These types of situations are always quite difficult for me because, as some of you may know, I have never really been involved with sport because I am looking for publicity or profile or exposure," she said.

Seven journalists from international agencies and publications such as the New York Times and USA Today, as well as the ABC, were invited to meet Hubbard the day after she became an Olympian, although without achieving the goals she had set for herself.

"While I recognise that my involvement in sport is a topic of considerable interest to some, in some ways I'm looking forward to this being the end of, I suppose, my journey as an athlete and the attention that comes from it," she said.

Occasionally, Hubbard looked up and directly at those in front of her, mostly though her face was looking downwards.

Laurel Hubbard sits on a couch in front of cameras and reporters
Laurel Hubbard was very open when sitting down to to speak with the media.(

Getty Images: Laurence Griffiths

)
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You get the sense Hubbard is only comfortable in stillness, not in the loudness that has been brought by her competing on a world stage.

She sat on her hands, she fidgeted with her hands, she clearly wrestles on a daily basis with the gulf between the way those that don't know her view her, opposed to those who do know her and the way she sees herself.

She was asked whether her retirement from the sport was always her intention once Tokyo was over, or whether she was driven to it by the noise that surrounds her.

"Really, age has caught up with me. In fact, if we are being honest, it probably caught up with me some time ago," she said.

"My involvement in sport is probably due to, if nothing else, to heroic amounts of anti-inflammatories … consequently it's probably time for me to start thinking about hanging up the boots and concentrating on other things in my life."

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Grateful to those who helped 'navigate the pressures of competing'

On top of the pressure of a COVID Olympics, Hubbard has borne another weight, the constant scrutiny and often ugly debate about whether she should be allowed to compete at all.

"I am just extraordinarily grateful to everyone who has made these Games possible, particularly the Japanese people themselves and the Japanese government, because really they've made extraordinary sacrifices," she said.

"But in terms of support, I just want to say thank you to so many people that have helped me to navigate the pressures of competing at events like these.

A woman wearing a New Zealand team singlet.
Laurel Hubbard has been eligible to compete as a woman for the past six years.(

AAP: Dean Lewins

)

"I know it's often said that weightlifting is an individual sport, but I think that's not true at all. In fact, I don't know that there are any individual sports here at the Olympics because really it takes a whole team of people for any athlete to qualify and come here to these events.

"This is a really roundabout way of saying that navigating the pressure here has been made possible by all of those people and I just wish I could thank them all today, but let's hope they know that they are in my heart."

Hubbard speaks so quietly that listening back requires the volume to be put on high. And then, to be sure you heard what she said correctly, you need to listen twice or three times.

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But don't think for a moment she is not strong.

"Anyone, I think, can train in their own time, but to actually be called to account on the platform when you've got one minute to make it all happen, that's the real test for anyone … and that's what's really brought me here — to answer those questions. And I may not have got the answers I may have hoped for, but I'm just glad I had the chance," she said.

The chance she speaks of is a deeply personal one, not the enormity of being the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympics and her place in history.

"I am reluctant to take it because I don't think it should be historic," she said.

"I think that as we move into a new and more understanding world, people are starting to realise that people like me are just people, we are human.

"And as such, I hope that just by being here that's enough.

"I really suppose hope is the key word here, isn't it? I think what these Olympics have shown is that even in a world that is beset by difficulty, the COVID pandemic obviously, but so many other things going on, that there are opportunities for the world to come together [in] what really is a celebration of all human values.

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"I suppose that's really the thing that struck me most about these Olympics, that they've really affirmed lots of hope in the world."

'I hope I'm in a position to look back'

Hubbard hasn't chosen her place in history, it has found her – in some ways a reluctant participant in her own story. How will she look back on this in years to come?

"That's a big question," she said.

"I suppose what I hope is that I am in a position to look back."

Laurel HUbbard raises her arms in the air and screams
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes at the Tokyo Olympics.(

Getty Images: Chris Graythen

)

Even transcribing these words now feels like a dart being thrown through your heart. You cannot hear those words without contemplating the worst, without recognising that some of the highest suicide rates in the world are in the transgender community.

There is no time, or desire, to confirm whether that is what she means as she quietly continues.

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"This will just be a small part of history, just a small step," she said.

"I know that we often look at history in terms of singular events, but really I think it's a continuum that is a product of so many uncomfortable lives and experiences. And I really hope that, you know, with time, any significance to this occasion is diminished in years to come."

Negative perceptions make 'a hard job even harder'

She finishes the answer and nods, affirming her own wishes but knowing at the moment they seem far off. She shrugs. She sits and waits for the next question.

It's about the negativity surrounding her inclusion at the Games.

"It's a good question. I try not to dwell on, I suppose, negative coverage or negative perceptions because it makes a hard job even harder," she said.

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"It's hard enough lifting a barbell, but if you're putting more weight on it then it just, yeah, makes it an impossible task really.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard holds a weights above her head dressed in a black singlet
Laurel Hubbard thanked the IOC for allowing her to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

"One thing I will say, though, is I think often a lot of negative coverage and negative perception is not really based on evidence or principle, but rather it's based on emotion.

"People are often reacting out of, I suppose, fear or discomfort and I hope that in time they will open themselves up to a broader perspective."

While it's obvious Hubbard just wants to live her life like any other ordinary human being, she is asked whether she considers herself ordinary.

She lifts her shoulders. She clenches her teeth. She chuckles.

"I don't really know how to describe myself at all," she says, and looks down again lost in her thoughts.

"Wow. Um … I don't think it's really for anyone to say what they are and what they aren't.

"All I've ever wanted to be is myself.

"I'm just so grateful I've had the opportunity to come here and be me."

Source : https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-03/laurel-hubbard-struggling-with-place-in-history/100346038

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