Trans swimmer Lia Thomas dominated the field to take gold at the NCAA swimming championship
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Lia Thomas has become the first transgender swimmer to win an NCAA championship after she blitzed her rivals to win the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday, but the victory has again initiated a debate as to the Thomas’ right to compete against biologically-born women.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Thomas began the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships as the top seed and duly delivered on expectations by touching the board first in the 500-yard freestyle event with a season-best time of 4 minutes 33.24 seconds.
Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant came in second place more than a full second behind at 4 minutes 34.99 seconds.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectation for this meet,” said Thomas afterwards.
“I was just happy to be here and race and compete the best I could.”
“It means the world to be here.”Lia Thomas spoke about swimming in the NCAA women's championships. pic.twitter.com/aP0afVA0KE
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Thomas’s win, though, didn’t come without some added controversy. The former male swimmer for Penn began the transition to female in 2019 when she started hormone replacement therapy but has become central to a heated discussion about the fairness of her status alongside biologically-born female athletes.
A number of protestors were noted outside the Georgia Tech facility which hosted the event, with some holding placards which read ‘Save Women’s Sports’ – something Thomas said she did her best to ignore.
“I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas said. “I try to focus on my swimming and just try to block out everything else.”
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Also among the protestors was Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, the author of a proposed law which would have restricted transgender athletes’ ability to compete in competition based on their gender identity.
The law was subsequently blocked by a federal court.
Nonetheless, Martina Navratilova, who was one of the world’s first and most prominent openly-lesbian athletes, said that Thomas’ win should come with an added asterisk next to it in the record books.
“It’s not about excluding transgender women from winning ever,” Navratilova said. “But it is about not allowing them to win when they were not anywhere near winning as men.
“You try to keep it as close as possible to what it would had been, were you born in the female biological body in the first place,” she added.
“And even saying that, people take exception to – biological female. People don’t even want to use those words. I don’t know what else to say. Other than that.”
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Navratilova also suggested that medals should be withheld from competitors such as Thomas.
“But the solution perhaps for now is to swim in a lane; you can compete but you don’t get the medal,” she said.
“Because the rules are not correct. But right now, the rules are what they are. Maybe put an asterisk there.”