By Brian Oliver
ANAHEIM (Reuters) - A New Zealand transgender lifter will go for gold against an American Olympic medallist when the super-heavyweight classes bring the weightlifting World Championships to a close on Tuesday.
Laurel Hubbard, 39, who competed nationally as Gavin Hubbard, has a perfect record since returning to competition after changing gender four years ago.
She has won the three events in which she has taken part, all in Australia, since her debut in international weightlifting last March and is in New Zealand’s team for the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast next April.
Based on the world rankings, Hubbard should be a gold-medal contender in the +90 kg class at the worlds where home hopes rest with Sarah Robles, from San Diego, who was third at the Rio Olympics last year.
Many of the world’s best super-heavyweight women are not competing because nine nations are banned for multiple doping offences. The Olympic gold and silver medallists are absent.
Hubbard complies with the conditions put in place by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose procedures on transgender athletes are followed by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).
Her presence in women’s weightlifting has irked rivals. Tim Swords, Robles's coach, said: “I do not want to say anything negative, but in my humble opinion this is not fair.”
Tracey Lambrechs, who lost her place as New Zealand’s top super-heavyweight when Hubbard started competing, shed 17 kilos to move down to the 90kg class and qualify for the Commonwealth Games with one national team place available in each category.
Lambrechs said Hubbard had an unfair advantage because of her history as a male lifter and recently told Radio NZ: “All I can hope is that they look into it and make a more educated judgement.”
Australian Weightlifting Federation chief executive, Michael Keelan, told the Australian Associated Press last week: "We're in a power sport which is normally related to masculine tendencies. 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."
Because of the controversy Hubbard, whose father Dick is a former mayor of Auckland, has not spoken to the media since she began competing internationally, and has declined interview requests.
"She has said she does not want to take the focus away from other athletes," said IWF director general Attila Adamfi.
Under the IOC regulations a male-to-female transgender athlete must show, from a period starting one year before her first competition and ending when she finishes her competitive career, that her total testosterone level is below 10 nanomols per litre.
The low point of the normal range of testosterone levels for males is 9.16 nanomols per litre, according to research published by the Endocrine Society this year.
The IOC might review its regulations when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had considered evidence from new research relating to female track and field athletes with high testosterone levels, said Adamfi.
Ursula Garza Papandrea, chair of the IWF Women’s Commission and president of USA Weightlifting, said the presence of Hubbard “certainly has the potential to draw a lot of controversy”.
But she added: “The rules are the rules and if it’s in the rules that’s what we go by. Whether those rules are fair or not fair is not for us to decide, it’s for the policy creators to decide."
In the men’s super-heavyweights, Iranian Saeed Alihosseini returns to competition after an eight-year doping ban.
Alihosseini, 29, who still holds the junior world records he set in 2008, was originally banned for life but successfully appealed and, since 2011 when CAS reduced the suspension to eight years, has trained at his father’s gym.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)