Why Laurel Hubbard can compete at the Tokyo Olympics when Caster Semenya can’t

Caster Semenya has effectively been prohibited from continuing her career as a middle-distance runner. Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

While New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is poised to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games, the two-times champion in the women’s 800m looks certain to be barred from defending her title.

South African track superstar Caster Semenya is awaiting a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to give her a chance of competing in her specialist event at the postponed Tokyo Olympics, but it appears unlikely she will receive that judgment before the Games start in July.

Semenya is an intersex cisgender woman. Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics that do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies, and Semenya identifies with the same gender – female – as she was assigned at birth.

Hubbard was born male and transitioned to female in 2012.

But while Hubbard will be able to contest the superheavyweight women’s weightlifting class in Tokyo if selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Semenya is currently prohibited from racing in the women’s 800m event and to do so would need to have a testosterone level effectively half of what Hubbard can compete with.


The 30-year-old South African has a hormone disorder, resulting in a higher level of testosterone – the condition being categorised as “46 XY DSD”.

World Athletics has implemented a rule since the 2016 Rio Olympics – where Semenya again won gold on the track after doing so four years earlier in London – which stops her from racing in middle-distance events.

The organisation has ruled intersex/differences of sex development (DSD) athletes who have XY male chromosomes, testes rather than ovaries, have circulating testosterone within the typical male range (7.7 to 29.4 nanomoles/L), and are androgen-sensitive so that their body makes use of that testosterone, must reduce their blood testosterone level to 5 nmol/L or lower for a six-month period before becoming eligible for track running events from 400 metres to 1500m.


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