Penn swimmer Lia Thomas becomes first trans woman to win NCAA swimming championship

Trans athletes are speaking out against bills to ban them from sports
Transgender athletes are speaking up as over half the states in the U.S. consider bills to ban trans students from competing in women’s sports.
Staff video, USA TODAY

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas made history Thursday by becoming the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming competition in Division I.

But not everyone was thrilled for her victory.

There were barely any cheers after she won, and some attendees held signs saying “Save Women’s Sports” in the stands at the Georgia Tech facility protesting the swimmer who once swam for the men’s team for three seasons.

Thomas, who entered the competition as the top seed, finished the 500-yard freestyle with a season-best time of 4 minutes, 33.24 seconds. The race was close until the last 100 yards with Virginia’s Emma Weyant finishing second at 4:34.99.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectation for this meet,” Thomas said. “I was just happy to be here and race and compete the best I could.”

Thomas began transitioning in 2019 with hormone therapy and followed NCAA and Ivy League rules. However, she faced scrutiny inside and outside the sport about if transgender women and girls should be allowed to participate in female sports. 

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps said the situation was complicated in an interview with CNN earlier this year.

“I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but  I think sports should all be played on an even playing field,” he said.

A few weeks later, some of her teammates sent a letter to the school and Ivy League stating she should not be allowed to compete.

“Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female,” the letter, obtained by The Washington Post, read. 

The letter came days after her other teammates issued a statement of support for the swimmer. 

After the race, Thomas said she tried to ignore the negativity.

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 “I try to focus on my swimming .. and just try to block out everything else,” she said. 

Thomas spoke with ESPN immediately after the race but would not participate in the official news conference, as required by the NCAA. Since participation is required, possible action could come following evaluation by the NCAA’s swimming and diving championships committee.

Contributing: Associated Press, Scooby Axson and Dan Wolken

This content was originally published here.

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