Dave Salo: Lia Thomas swimming situation is ‘assault on women’s sports’

Dave Salo: Lia Thomas swimming situation is ‘assault on women’s sports’

A Hall of Fame swimming coach spoke out Tuesday against allowing transgender athletes like Penn’s Lia Thomas to compete in the female division, decrying it as “an assault on women’s sports.”

Dave Salo, who retired last year as head swimming coach at the University of Southern California, said the NCAA policy that permits Thomas to swim against women after one year of testosterone suppression “compromises all the work that has been done by women athletes.”

“I don’t think it’s fair at all,” Salo told The Washington Times. “I think it really compromises the gains that have been made in women’s sports for the last 30 years. It’s going backwards. I think the NCAA and IOC have not really looked at the policy that directs this question.”

Also weighing in was Jeri Shanteau, an 11-time All-American swimmer who won three NCAA women’s championships in the mid-2000s at Auburn.

“There is an injustice being done right now for women competing in sports, specifically and clearly swimming,” Shanteau told The Washington Times.

She and Salo joined a small but growing chorus of swimming and sports insiders sounding the alarm as Thomas breaks records on the women’s side after three years on the Penn men’s team as Will Thomas, fueling a national debate over fairness and inclusion in female sports.

“It is very concerning as a former female athlete to watch people who have the ability to protect women’s sports and fairness and safety stand by and do nothing,” Shanteau said. “It is negligent.”

Salo said his female swimmers were unable to replicate the results of their male counterparts, no matter how hard they trained.

“I know how hard the women have worked. They’ve worked on par with men in terms of their effort, but they can never match what the men could do in the weight room or in the pool,” he said.

Certainly Salo knows a thing or two about athletes.

He has coached male and female swimmers for more than 40 years, including at the Olympics and world championships. During his 14 years as head coach of USC, his teams frequently finished in the top 10 in the nation.

Now head coach emeritus at Irvine Novaquatics, Salo led the coaching staff for the U.S. team at the 2021 FINA Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi, which ran from Dec. 16-21.

He was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010.

Salo said he felt compelled to speak out on behalf of collegiate swimmers who fear they will be publicly shamed or “canceled” if they object to having Thomas race against female-born athletes.

“One of the concerns that I have is that under the circumstances of wokeism, those who are most affected are the most silent. They’re afraid to speak out. They know it’s unfair,” Salo said.

“I’m 63. I’m at nearly the end of my career in coaching, and I can’t be canceled. So I can speak out against what I think is an assault on women’s sports,” he said.

The 37-year-old Shanteau echoed his concerns, saying she was “here to speak up for the women today that are being completely discriminated against and do not have a voice, cannot have a voice in our social climate.”

In a Dec. 8 interview with SwimSwam, Thomas said she and her coaches expected pushback, although “to the extent it has blown up, we weren’t fully expecting.”

“I just don’t engage with it. It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage with it at all, and so I don’t. That’s all I’ll say on that,” Thomas said in the video.

Among those backing Thomas include female-to-male transgender triathlete Chris Mosier, who tweeted: “Transgender athletes at all levels – including U Penn swimmer Lia Thomas – deserve equal access to & participation in the sport they love, without discrimination or abuse. PERIOD.”

Salo said he has never met Thomas, and that “I don’t begrudge what Lia Thomas has done.”

“I think the decision to transition is a very difficult one at any stage in life,” Salo said. “I have a good friend of mine, a coach, who did this 2-3 years ago at almost age 70. To do that kind of transition is a bold move and a personal move.”

Penn and the NCAA have yet to comment publicly on the outcry surrounding Thomas, who holds the nation’s fastest times this year in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, putting her on a glide path to the Ivy League Championships in February and the NCAA championships in March.

Salo said that any event in which Thomas qualifies will deprive a female-born swimmer of a slot.

“Maybe it’s their last chance to make the NCAA championships,” he said. “It’s a selection meet based on numbers. If your number doesn’t come up because somebody has taken that spot, [such as] Lia Thomas, that athlete will never experience the culminating pinnacle of their careers because they’ve been left out by somebody who a year ago was a man.”

Shanteau, who is married to Olympic gold-medal swimmer Eric Shanteau, said that winning an NCAA title or even competing at the championships is “life-changing.”

“My life is different because I have titles to my name. And this is the sad point,” she said. “This is the opportunity that’s being taken away.”

Shanteau challenged collegiate and sports governing bodies to address the rising concerns.

“Where are our universities? Where are our conferences? Where are our governing bodies? Where is the USOC? Where is USA Swimming? Where is the NCAA?” she asked. “Nobody wants to be the first to speak out.”

The Penn swimming team is scheduled to compete next on Jan. 8 at home against Dartmouth.