Lia Thomas on Thursday night became the first transgender athlete to be crowned National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion, winning the 500 yard freestyle in Georgia – to a silent crowd.
Thomas, 22, scorched her competitors in Atlanta with a 4 minutes 33:24 second race – much to the chagrin of some of her teammates, and to those in the stands, who remained silent as she won.
‘I try to ignore it as much as I can, I try to focus on my swimming what I need to do to get ready for my races and I just try to block out everything else,’ said Thomas after the race, when asked by ESPN about the response.
‘It means the world to be here, to be with two of my best friend and teammates and be able to compete.’
Thomas also roundly defeated fellow swimmers at last month’s Ivy League championships.
The Texan, who swam for three years on the university’s men’s team before transitioning in 2019, is now the first transgender athlete to win a NCAA championship – a distinction one of Thomas’ teammates said would be dubious if achieved.
Lia Thomas, 22, is seen immediately after her historic victory – which was greeted with silence by the crowd
The NCAA celebrated Thomas’s victory on social media, crowning the new national champion
Thomas is seen beaming after winning the heat of the 500 yard race
Lia Thomas is seen swimming for the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday, at the NCAA championships in Atlanta, Georgia. She has become the first transgender athlete to win a NCAA final
Thomas, 22, is seen ahead of her heat on Thursday, which she also won – making her top seed for the final
‘It’s not necessarily an achievement in my mind,’ said one of Thomas’ teammates on UPenn’s Women’s Swim Team.
She told Fox News Digital that Thomas’s participation in D1-sanctioned women’s events has ‘completely ruined the integrity of the sport.’
She said Thomas’ achievements while on the women’s team should be taken with a grain of salt, due to the biological advantages of being born a man.
‘It’s its own distinct category because no woman is going to be as fast as a man, and here, is just completely – we’re just throwing away the definition of a record to fit into someone else’s agenda of what it should mean to them,’ she said.
‘In reality, it makes no scientific sense to do so.’
Thomas, who also smoked fellow swimmers at last month’s Ivy League championships, scored the best time at the event – 4 minutes, 33.82 seconds – five seconds faster than the runner-up, earning her a spot in Thursday’s final
Thomas is one of more than 300 swimmers who qualified for the NCAA championships this week, after securing a trio of records at the Ivy League Championships last month in the 100, 200, and 500 yard freestyle events.
Thomas is set to compete in those same events at this week’s NCAA championships.
In two of them, she ranks first in the country.
‘It’s still just disappointing to know that the NCAA lacks the courage to do the right thing,’ said Thomas’ teammate.
The NCAA leadership decided in January to amend its policies concerning trans athletes, to allow each sport’s governing body to discern whether an athlete is eligible to compete.
Under the new guidance, Thomas was allowed by USA Swimming to compete as a woman because she has completed a year of hormone treatment. Shortly thereafter, USA Swimming announced a new requirement that transgender women must suppress their testosterone levels for three years before competing – a rule which would have seen Thomas excluded from future female competitions.
It appeared at the time that Thomas would be barred from the NCAA championships as a result, after the NCAA’s assertion that they would abide by USA Swimming rules.
But just before last month’s Ivy League competition, the NCAA backtracked on its decision, saying that instituting a new policy in the middle of the season would be unfair – allowing Thomas to compete at that competition as well as this month’s championships.
Her continued participation in women’s competition has proved deeply divisive, with former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – who won gold in the decathlon as Bruce Jenner – among those criticizing Thomas for swimming in women’s races.
Earlier this month, a Sports Illustrated feature on Thomas revealed that about ‘half the team opposes her competing against other women.’
In the piece published March 3, sources close to Penn’s team said that out of 37 total members of the squad, only six to eight were ‘adamant supporters’ of the senior standout.
Meanwhile, roughly half of the team, author Robert Sanchez wrote, ‘opposes her competing against other women.’
The remaining members ‘have steered clear of the debate,’ Sanchez noted.
One of the opposition, the unnamed student who spoke to Fox, said that while many support Thomas and her journey as a swimmer and a person, she could not stand by a decision that would put her and other women at a disadvantage.
‘I think if Lia were to break an Olympian’s record, it would cause a lot of damage to the sport and to women, and I think it would cause more people to come out [against the guidelines], people that were afraid to speak before,’ the student said.
The win saw the transgender woman, who swam for three years on the university’s men’s team before transitioning in 2019, move a step closer to becoming the first transgender athlete to win a NCAA championship – a distinction Thomas’ teammate said would be dubious if achieved
‘I think there’s a way where you can still be your authentic self and be who you are and swim as who you are while not competing against women,’ the student told Fox News.
‘If you had compassion for your teammates or women at all, you would admit you have an unfair advantage and not do this to women.’
She continued: ‘I don’t understand how we could have been more supportive as a team.
‘But I will not back down, and my teammates and women across the country should not be told to back down from speaking their mind about an issue that so heavily affects them.
‘They’re being discriminated against.
‘Women’s rights are being violated.’
The record-smashing showings saw Thomas come under national scrutiny, with many protesting decisions that allowed her to compete in women’s events. Pictured here is a group that formed outside Georgia Tech Thursday during the women’s competition
Protesters in Atlanta flocked Thursday to Georgia Tech University to voice their opposition towards Thomas’ participation in the current NCAA championship
The swimmer’s continued participation in the women’s competition has proved deeply divisive, with many – including some of Thomas’ teammates – calling for the NCAA to bar transgender athletes from competing in women’s competitions
‘This whole season has been about her. Everything this whole season has been about Lia, and we’ve all sacrificed everything, our entire livelihoods we’ve sacrificed. How much more should we be willing to sacrifice for Lia?
‘I’m not willing to sacrifice anything else. We’ve already sacrificed team morale and the way that people look at our team success and have the media, to that aspect, thrown in.’
Thomas, now a senior, entered the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships as the top seed in the 500, after dominating performances at last month’s Ivy League championships that saw her break six records at the storied competition.
The record-smashing showings saw Thomas come under national scrutiny, with many protesting decisions that allowed her to compete in women’s events.
Protesters in Atlanta flocked Thursday outside Georgia Tech University to voice their opposition towards Thomas’ participation in the current NCAA championship.
Thomas, 22, is allowed to compete as a woman because she has completed a year of hormone treatment
Thomas’ continued participation in women’s competition has proved deeply divisive, with former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – who won gold in the decathlon as Bruce Jenner – among those criticizing Thomas for swimming in women’s races
Thomas’ teammate, meanwhile, said that while she’s hopeful for this year’s swim season, she is concerned that Thomas’ continued participation has permanently damaged the sport she loves.
‘This will still haunt us in the fact that pool and team records have been broken unfairly and in an illegitimate way.
‘We’re supposed to look up at the record board and see Lia’s name and somewhere accept that.’
She then declared: ‘It completely ruins the integrity of the school.’
THE RULES ON TRANSGENDER ATHLETES AND WHEN THEY CAN COMPETE FOR GENDER THEY ARE SWITCHING TO
Lia Thomas started taking hormone therapy while she was still competing as a male back in May 2019.
Under USA Swimming rules, athletes had to have recorded low levels of testosterone for 36 months to compete in the female category.
That meant that Thomas didn’t qualify for the NCAA championship, if they followed USA Swimming rules – as they originally said they would.
But the NCAA said that she would be allowed to compete because they were refusing to adopt the threshold this year.
Last month, the NCAA committee said: ‘The subcommittee decided implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships.’
It is unclear what they will do next year, however.
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