Olympics 2021: Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard's night ended early, but she made Olympic history

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was unable to record a lift in her first three attempts during the snatch portion of the women's +87kg event. MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

TOKYO -- Laurel Hubbard stood at the side of the stage, and her eyes briefly darted around the auditorium. When her name was announced to the crowd a moment later, she took a deep breath before she walked out under the bright lights.

The moment she had been waiting for -- that everyone had been waiting for -- had finally arrived. As she made her way to the 120 kg weight in her first lift attempt of the women's +87kg Olympic weightlifting competition on Monday night, someone in the crowd yelled, "Go, Laurel!"

And another, "You got this, Laurel!"

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The room went mostly silent by the time she bent down to lift the weight, aside from the endless shuttering of hundreds of cameras documenting her every move. She had the undivided attention of everyone in the room.

Hubbard's arms shook as she tried to lift the weight, but she was unable to get it above her head. It bounced to the floor. But it didn't matter: She had made history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete in the sport at the Olympic Games.

Hubbard's inclusion had been contentious and hotly debated in the weeks since she secured her spot on New Zealand's team, but the palpable support in the Tokyo Forum on Monday masked all that. There was none of the vitriol so frequently seen online, just applause and cheers inside the venue -- and an audible buzz that has been nearly impossible to find elsewhere during these fanless Olympic Games.

Fans were not allowed to attend, but every media seat was filled, and reporters from all over the world spilled into overflow seats. Event officials and a number of competitors from other weight classes were there, too, to offer their encouragement.

Hubbard knew the moment was bigger than herself.

"[The International Weightlifting Federation] have shown that weightlifting is an activity that's open to all the people of the world," Hubbard said later in the night.

Hubbard, 43, still had two more lifts in the snatch portion of the event. She lifted the second attempt, at 125 kg, above her head as her arms trembled, but it was deemed a no lift by decision from the jury. An audible groan filled the auditorium when the ruling was announced.

Moments later, when she came back out for her third and final snatch lift, her previous scores displayed in red to indicate they weren't successful on the video screen above her head. The pleas from the crowd grew increasingly desperate, as if no one wanted to see her Olympic journey end just yet.

"Come on, Laurel!"

"You need this, Laurel!"

Hubbard let out a short yell before approaching the weight, also at 125 kg, and shook her hands loose before she crouched down. She jumped up and lifted the weight above her head, but before she could stand up fully, it toppled behind her, crashing to the ground. The cheer that had started from those in the audience quickly turned to dismay and then silence.

Hubbard smiled.

She cupped her hands over her heart and mouthed "Thank you" to the crowd before turning away. When she neared the exit, she turned around again and bowed. The crowd was still applauding after she had disappeared from sight.

Her entire Olympic performance had lasted less than 10 minutes.

Having not been able to record a lift, Hubbard was eliminated from the competition. The rest of her opponents went on to the clean-and-jerk section of the event, but Hubbard's night and her Olympic dream were over.

While the music echoed inside the auditorium and her peers continued to battle for the gold, Hubbard addressed reporters on the other side of the wall, unable to hide her disappointment.

"Thank you so very much for your interest in my humble sporting performance tonight," Hubbard said. "I know from a sporting perspective, I did not live up to the standards I put upon myself."

Hubbard, who tends to shy away from the spotlight and declines most interviews, did not answer any questions. It was clear her trip to Tokyo had not ended the way she wanted, and she didn't have much to say. But even in her frustration she recognized the significance of the night and knew it extended far beyond her ability to win a medal or record a lift.

"I am not entirely unaware of the controversy which surrounds my participation at these Games," Hubbard said. "And as such I would particularly like to thank the IOC for, I think, really affirming its commitment to the principles of Olympism and establishing that sport is something for all people, it is inclusive, accessible."