The participation of New Zealand's trans-athlete Laurel Hubbard in the weight lifting competition in Tokyo 2020 was controversial, with not everyone in agreeance for allowing an athlete who was born male to compete in the female event. Hubbard was touted as the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, though there were a couple of other athletes who identified as transgender who also competed in Tokyo.
History of Transgender Athletes at the Olympic Games
The transgender athletes in Tokyo are most likely not the first transgender athletes to participate in the Olympic Games.
Although not specifically transgender, in the history of the Olympic Games there are a few examples of competitors in female events later being discovered to be genetically male, though in most cases it was not purposeful deception. Most of these cases of men competing as females have been unintentional and more a case of undiagnosed genetic abnormalities.
One instance is from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, German Dora Ratjen who finished fourth in the women's high jump was later found to be a man. Some have claimed that the Nazis ordered him to pose as a woman. Another famous case is of Polish athlete Stanisława Walasiewicz (also known as Stella Walsh), who won gold in the women's 100 m at the 1932 Summer Olympics in LA, and silver in the 100 m at the 1936 Olympics. After she was shot dead during an armed robbery in 1980, the subsequent autopsy revealed she possessed male body parts, although she also had female characteristics. More recently, middle-distance runner Caster Semenya from South Africa was discovered to be an intersex woman, assigned female at birth. She has XY chromosomes and naturally elevated testosterone levels.
Following a 2016 IOC ruling, trans-athletes aiming to compete in female events are not required to undergo reassignment surgery (as per previous guidelines), though they must demonstrate testosterone levels below a certain level. Also, trans woman athletes need to declare their gender and not change that assertion for four years. There are no conditions placed upon those who transition from female to male gender, making them free to compete.
This is an ongoing controversy and the guidelines are expected to continue to change.
Below are a few known examples of transgender athletes who have participated at the Olympic Games.
Non-binary Canadian football player Quinn was one of the first openly transgender athletes in the Olympics and the first to win a medal, a gold medal for Canada in the women's football. They also won bronze with Team Canada in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but at the time they hadn't yet come out.
Laurel Hubbard (2021)
Laurel Hubbard, a trans woman, competed in the 2020 Summer Olympics in weightlifting. She became the first openly trans woman to compete at the Olympics; she did not complete her lifts and won no medal.
Alana Smith (2021)
Alana Smith, a non-binary skateboarder, represented the United States in the women's skateboarding semifinals of the 2021 Olympic Games.