Lia Thomas Makes History as the First Trans Athlete to Win an NCAA Title

Lia Thomas, the transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer who has faced a media storm over her switch from men’s to women’s competition, made history as the NCAA’s first-ever trans champion in Division I.

During this week’s NCAA Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, the 22-year-old senior secured her first NCAA Championship victory as protesters rallied against her participation just outside the venue.

Thomas finished the 500-yard freestyle final just over over a second faster than second-place finisher Emma Weyant, while Olympian Erica Sullivan touched the wall next for the final spot on the podium.

Thomas competed for the men’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania for three years before transitioning, undergoing hormone therapy, then switching to compete for the women’s team in 2020. She has since broken a number of national women’s swimming records in the US, including the 200-meter and 500-meter freestyle records at the Zippy Invitational Event in Akron, Ohio in December.

Weyant, who competes for the University of Virginia, is considered one of the hottest talents in women’s swimming, having already won an Olympic medal, taking silver in the 400-meter medley event at Tokyo. Sullivan, a star for the Texas Longhorns, also won a silver medal in Tokyo after finishing behind Katie Ledecky in the 1500-meter free.

Thomas has faced a litany of backlash — including within her own team at Penn — for competing in women’s sports despite having what naysayers perceive as a biological advantage in being assigned male at birth. Still, after her victory, the newly-minted champion said that she tries to “ignore” controversy surrounding her competing in women’s events.

“I try to ignore it as much as I can,” she said. “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.”

“It means the world to be here, to be with two of my best friends and teammates and be able to compete,” Thomas added.

The crowd in the arena, which belongs to Georgia Tech, was mixed in its reaction to Thomas’ win. As she stood on the podium she was largely applauded and cheered, though some boos could be heard from the stands.

The reaction to Weyant being announced as the second place finisher, however, was significantly louder, with almost universal cheering, footage posted on social media showed.

A number of protesters were seen outside the event, with some in the crowd holding “Save Women’s Sports” banners. According to ESPN’s Katie Barnes, one such protester wore shirt that read “That man is a cheat,” referring to Thomas, who is a woman.

While there were upwards of 20 people there to rally against Thomas and trans women in sports, per Barnes, roughly a dozen counter-protestors gathered outside of Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center in support of Thomas and other trans athletes. 

As far as Thomas herself is concerned, there’s no debate. In a recent Sports Illustrated feature, she offered a remarkably simple explanation for why she belongs on the women’s side of the pool.

“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” Thomas said. “I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team.”

“Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets,” she added.

In that same interview, Thomas expressed her desire to compete beyond college and potentially book her ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. USA Swimming officials “have no issue with Thomas representing the United States” on the Olympic stage so long as she “meets the criteria to continue swimming in the women’s category,” according to Sports Illustrated.

Many within swimming, however, have taken issue with her participating. Michael Phelps, probably the greatest ever male swimmer, earlier this year compared trans women competing in women’s sports to doping.

“I can talk from a standpoint of doping. I don’t think I’ve competed in a clean field in my entire career,” Phelps said in an interview when asked about Thomas.

11 comments

  • David L Herbert

    This discrimination against women has to stop. The obvious unfairness is outrageous. The NCAA needs to stop this now.

  • His father must be so proud. If he were REALLY ‘trans’, he’d have his junk removed. As it is, he’s just a pathetic cheater because he can’t compete and win amongst other men. Let’s just be truthful about this, shall we?

  • Should we send an apology to Russia for condemning them for their sending gender bending athletes to compete in the olymp!ics. And what about the poor athletes that weren’t allowed to compete simp!y because they were before their time. A shame the progressive movement didn’t progress fast enough to help those Russian athletes. And if they had, all of women’s sports would be off the table by now.

  • Remove his package and make him a real transgender, then see how good he does.

  • Why not require a handicap so the trans people can still participate while also being fair to the women?

  • Fair is fair. He needs to be completely transitioned to a women and have a women’s level of testosterone. They should test him for testosterone levels to make sure he is within range OR they should allow the female athletes to take steroids. That is fair people!

  • How awesome! Time for LeBraun to let it out that he is also a woman.

  • This site is called real news, yet it’s pretending a man who couldn’t cut it in men’s sports so started pretending to be a women and of course ‘makes history’ with a huge, undeniable advantage over actual women is somehow okay?
    If adults all have to pretend to make this okay and relentlessly demonize anyone who doesn’t want to pretend then it’s clearly not ok. Stop calling yourself real news please. You don’t deserve the title, any more than he does.

  • FreakBOY will NEVER be recognized as the REAL winner. Period.

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