Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has been named sportswoman of the year by New Zealand’s University of Otago.
Hubbard was honoured during the University of Otago’s Blues and Golds Awards last week. She is believed to be the first transgender winner of the accolade in the event’s 113-year history.
According to Otago University Students’ Association President Michaela Waite-Harvey, the awards aim to reward students excelling in their chosen sport.
“We could think of no-one more worthy of sportswoman of the year than Laurel Hubbard who represented Otago and New Zealand incredibly well at this year’s Tokyo Olympics,” Waite-Harvey said.
In a statement to the Otago Daily Times, Hubbard said she was “grateful for all of the support and kindness received from the teaching staff and students at Otago University.”
“It is not possible for athletes to compete at the Olympic level without the encouragement and aroha of friends, family and supporters. This award belongs to everyone who has been part of my Olympic journey.”
Hubbard made history this summer after becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete in a different gender category at the Olympics.
She struggled to make a mark in the women’s over-87 kilogram division, however, failing to record a single lift in the snatch. This knocked her out of contention for a medal, and she did not go on to compete in the clean and jerk.
China’s world record holder Li Wenwen was the gold medallist, while Emily Campbell of Great Britain earned silver and Sarah Robles of the United States took bronze.
The 43-year-old Hubbard suggested she would soon retire, revealing her age had caught up with her and the physical challenge of training and competing had become too demanding.
Hubbard transitioned from male to female in 2012. Prior to her transition, she had competed in domestic men’s competitions and was a national record holder as a junior. She quit weightlifting in 2001 at the age of 23.
Hubbard returned to weightlifting as a woman, contesting her first international event in 2017. She earned a world silver medal in the over-90kg division that year, but suffered a serious elbow injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Despite fearing her career was over, Hubbard battled back and won a gold medal at the 2019 Pacific Games.
She qualified for Tokyo 2020 after meeting the eligibility standards set by the International Olympic Committee, and has been praised for her “courage and tenacity” to take to the stage in the Japanese capital.