After global attention in the buildup to her event, transgender Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s performance at the Tokyo Games was bettered by all seven other women.

It’s been contentious, divisive and trailblazing, provoking a global debate around inclusion that’s transcended sport.

But with the world’s eyes on her, Laurel Hubbard’s long-awaited moment in Olympic, and wider sporting history, was over in just minutes. The excitement of the moment had overwhelmed her, the transgender athlete explained. 

Advocates and critics for the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sport were briefly dumbstruck on Monday night, when the New Zealand heavyweight lifter never made it onto the scoreboard. Other than the three letters: DNF.

History will show that Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete at an Olympics, but bowed out of the +87kg women’s weightlifting competition without registering a single successful lift.

In a rare interview straight after the competition ended, Hubbard said she was overwhelmed by the excitement of competing on the Olympic platform. “It’s such a truly special place, not just for weightlifters, but for any Olympic athlete. Competing at this level unlocks a certain amount of adrenalin and I think I might have just slightly overcooked it tonight,” she said.

Asked if she had been able to block out the controversy around her inclusion in these Olympics, Hubbard said:  “I’m not sure it’s possible for any person to really block out everything that’s happening in the world, but you just do what you can and get on with it.” 

Hubbard, at 43 the oldest in the 14-lifter field by 10 years, failed with all three of her snatch attempts, which ruled her out of continuing in the competition.

After her third failed attempt, at 125kg, Hubbard shakily made a heart with her hands, thanked the small audience, and walked off the platform, obviously disappointed.

It was almost a repeat of her performance at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, when she was forced to withdraw from the competition without a medal after badly injuring her elbow. 

That was expected to be a career-ending injury, but she made a comeback determined to qualify for her first Olympic Games. “That injury…was so traumatic that I never thought I would ever compete again, and consequently everything that’s happened since then has been a bonus. I think that’s why it’s hard for me to be too disappointed tonight, because it’s something I never expected to be possible,” Hubbard said.

Closing her eyes and smiling before she walked onto the Olympic stage in Tokyo for her first attempt, she tried to lift 120kg, but dropped the weights behind her head before she got out of the crouch.

In her second attempt at 125kg, Hubbard hesitated with the bar above her head, took a couple of small steps to her left, and appeared to be successful. But judges failed the lift, for a wobbly arm, and her third failure meant her Olympics were over.

Hubbard was the only one of 10 Group A lifters who didn’t carry on to the clean and jerk.

In the meantime, China’s world champion and multiple world record holder Li Wenwen took charge of the competition, as expected, with a new Olympic snatch record of 140kg. She went on to win gold with an Olympic record total of 320kg.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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