Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to make history at the Tokyo Olympics by becoming the first transgender athlete to compete at the Games.
While the 43-year-old has yet to be named in the New Zealand team, a rule change approved by the International Olympic Committee means she would automatically qualify for the women's superheavyweight category, reports the Guardian.
Under the new qualification rules, which came into effect after several competitions were lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Hubbard will be guaranteed a spot at Tokyo if fit.
Teams do not have to be named until July 5.
It means Hubbard, who won silver at the 2017 world championships and represented New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games before suffering a serious injury in competition, will likely become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics.
While she will be the oldest weightlifter at the Games, she will also be a genuine medal hopeful with her qualifying lifts ranking her at fourth out of the 14 qualifiers in the 87kg-plus category.
The NZOC confirmed to Stuff that weightlifters who qualify under the amended rules will be assessed and a decision will be made in the coming weeks.
"The New Zealand Team has a strong culture of manaaki and inclusion and respect for all. We look forward to supporting all athletes selected to the New Zealand Team in Tokyo 2020," an NZOC release said on Thursday.
However, Hubbard's historic achievement for trans athletes will likely also spark controversy from others who insist she has an unfair advantage.
In 2015, the IOC issued new guidelines allowing athletes who transition from male to female to compete in the women's category provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months prior to their first competition – a rule also followed by the International Weightlifting Federation.
However, recent studies suggest transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers even after a year on hormone therapy.
Hubbard has competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013 but didn't compete internationally.
Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she beat Samoa's Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, sparked outrage in the island nation.
Australia's weightlifting federation tried to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but it was rejected by organisers.
In an interview after finishing second in the world championships in 2017, Hubbard said: "The rules that enabled me to compete first went into effect in 2003.
"They are known as the Stockholm consensus with the IOC but I think even 10 years ago the world perhaps wasn't ready for an athlete like myself – and perhaps it is not ready now. But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions and it seemed like the right time to put the boots on and hit the platform."
Hubbard's career was feared to be over after a horror elbow injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but managed to bounce back to compete at her best a year later.
She is now ranked 16th in the world rankings, but several of the athletes above her will be absent from the Games due to IWF rules that limit nations to only one lifter per category.