Trans swimmer Lia Thomas skips final regular-season meet as focus turns to NCAA championships

Trans swimmer Lia Thomas skips final regular-season meet as focus turns to NCAA championships

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas sat out the last meet of the regular season to prepare for postseason collegiate competition as tension builds over her participation in the NCAA women’s championships.

The University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming and diving team on Friday defeated West Chester University even without Thomas, the team’s star swimmer, who took a breather ahead of next month’s Ivy League Championships.

“Friday had long been a planned rest day for Lia and a number of our other top swimmers as they prepare for championship meets next month,” a Penn Athletics spokesperson said in a Saturday email.

What worries women’s sports advocates is what comes next: the NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving championships in March, where the 22-year-old senior has the potential to rewrite the record books.

Champion Women, a group headed by Olympic swimming gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, launched a petition Thursday urging USA Swimming to “prioritize fairness in women’s sports” by adopting an “interim evidence-based transgender eligibility process” ahead of the NCAA competition.

Lia is on track to win at the Women’s NCAA Championships, and possibly even break Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky’s records. After the NCAA Championships, it will be difficult to undo the damage,” the group said.

The petition, which was retweeted by tennis great Martina Navratilova, said the data shows that undergoing at least a year of testosterone suppression before competition, as Thomas did to comply with NCAA rules, has failed to level the playing field.

“The male-female performance gap in NCAA swimming is between 8.7% in distance events and 13.3% in the sprints,” the Champion Women petition said. “But Lia’s testosterone suppression has not resulted in moving her times anywhere close to the times necessary to demonstrate she has ‘mitigated’ the advantage she received from 10 years of male-puberty.”

Her best times as a female swimmer are slower than her best times before her transition, but her rankings against the women’s field are much higher.

For example, Thomas’ top national collegiate men’s ranking in the 200-yard freestyle was #462. This season, Thomas’s best time in the 200 was more than two seconds slower, but she ranks #1 in the nation for women’s collegiate swimmers.

“[W]e now know that the NCAA’s standard was based on the hypothesis that one year of testosterone suppression would be sufficient to roll back a transgender woman’s male-puberty performance advantages,” the petition said. “But new scientific evidence and results like Lia Thomas’s demonstrate that mitigation may not be possible in the sport of swimming.”

The NCAA threw out its transgender eligibility policy earlier this month and deferred to the national governing body, USA Swimming, which said it is waiting for the International Swimming Federation, or FINA, to revamp its rules. The update could come as early as next month.

Any effort to disqualify Thomas could touch off a court fight. An anonymous teammate reportedly said last week that Penn would consider a lawsuit if Thomas were deemed ineligible, saying she “heard it from some administrators.”

“I have a feeling that if USA Swimming changes their rules, they will be filing a lawsuit for Lia to swim, but they wouldn’t do that for us,” she told Fox News. “That’s just really upsetting.”

The Washington Times has reached out to Penn Athletics for comment.

A report in the [U.K.] said that an anonymous Penn female swimmer said the team is uncomfortable with sharing the women’s locker room with Thomas because she still has male genitalia and is attracted to females.

“Multiple swimmers have raised it, multiple different times,” she said in the Thursday report. “But we were basically told that we could not ostracize Lia by not having her in the locker room and that there’s nothing we can do about it, that we basically have to roll over and accept it, or we cannot use our own locker room.”

Another Division I swimmer, Stanford’s Brooke Forde, issued a statement Tuesday via her father, Sports Illustrated reporter Pat Forde, in support of Thomas.

“I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year,” Ms. Forde said, according to SwimSwam.

Thomas is expected to compete in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle races.