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Trans-identified swimmer Lia Thomas sets record at Ivy League Championships

NCAA Swimming
The field stays close together early in the women’s 800-meter freestyle finals during the Conoco Phillips USA Swimming National Championships at Stanford University’s Avery Aquatic Center on August 6, 2011, in Palo Alto, California. |

University of Pennsylvania trans-identified swimmer Lia Thomas set a new record in the 200-yard freestyle finals at the Ivy League women’s swimming and diving championships Friday.

Thomas, a senior who had previously competed for years on Penn’s men’s team and drew much backlash for competing on Penn’s women’s team this season, won the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle races at the annual league championship event held this year in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

Thomas finished the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute and 43.12 seconds, beating the meet record set in 2020 by over a half-second. The next closest competitor was Harvard’s Samantha Shelton, who finished the race in 1 minute and 45.82 seconds. 

In the 500-yard freestyle finals Thursday, Thomas finished in 4 minutes and 37.32 seconds, beating the next closest competitor (teammate Catherine Buroker) by over 7.5 seconds. Thomas’ result in the 500-yard freestyle was nearly 1 second behind the meet record set in 2020. 

Thomas is also expected to compete in the 100-yard freestyle or the 1,650-yard freestyle Saturday.

The result comes as there has been heated debate around the ethics of Thomas being able to compete in women’s swimming after having competed for three years on the men’s team. NCAA requires biologically male trans-identified athletes to undergo testosterone suppression for over a year before they can compete in women's competition. 

Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association effectively cleared the way for the trans-identified swimmer to participate in the NCAA’s women’s swimming championships next month.

In an announcement, the NCAA stated that it would not change rules regulating testosterone levels that a trans-identified competitor can have and still be eligible to compete at the women’s championships.

The announcement came weeks after the NCAA approved new guidelines allowing each sport to decide its policies regarding the participation of trans-identified athletes, mirroring recently enacted guidelines by the International Olympic Committee.

The organization that oversees competitive swimming in the United States, USA Swimming, proposed a policy requiring trans-identified swimmers to show testosterone concentration below 5 nanomoles per liter for 36 months before they are eligible to compete in women’s competition, according to Swimming World.

But instead of adopting USA Swimming’s policy, the NCAA will continue with its previous policy requiring trans-identified athletes to show a threshold of 10 nanomoles per liter. 

While Thomas has gained support from LGBT advocacy groups, the athlete’s participation has been criticized by others, including some teammates.

In December, a USA Swimming official with over three decades of experience resigned to protest the NCAA’s rules allowing biologically male trans-identified athletes to compete in women’s swimming competitions. 

In a recent interview with OutKick, a Penn swimmer, who spoke anonymously, said many of her teammates have “spoken to our coaches about not liking this.”

After the university put out an unsigned statement claiming to represent the views of some members of the team in support of Thomas, retired Olympic swimming Nancy Hagshead-Makar wrote a letter claiming to be on behalf of 16 members of Penn’s women’s swimming team and their family members voicing concern with policies allowing biological males to compete in women’s competition.

They argued that when it comes to sporting competition, “the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.”

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