Winner Hillary Kipkoech of Kenya crosses the finish line at the men’s half-marathon of the Hokkaido-Sapporo Marathon Festival 2021, a testing event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics marathon race, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan May 5, 2021. [REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool]

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics after qualifying for the rescheduled Tokyo Games due to a rule change, Inside the Games website reported on Wednesday.

The report said Hubbard was effectively guaranteed a spot in the women’s super heavyweight category after the International Olympic Committee approved an amendment to the qualifying system due to disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Zealander Hubbard, 43, competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.

She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued new guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Weightlifting – Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games – Women’s +90kg – Final – Carrara Sports Arena 1 – Gold Coast, Australia – April 9, 2018. Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes. [REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo]

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo is set to attract huge media attention as well as criticism from fellow lifters and coaches.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the island nation.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move. 

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