Lia Thomas is the first openly transgender swimmer to win a major US college title. The University of Pennsylvania swimmer stunned the world with her performance at the Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. Thomas showcased a title-winning performance in the 500-yard freestyle event at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One national championship, which led to controversy as well.
The 22-year-old athlete transitioned to the women’s competitions after competing for around three years in the men’s league. Thomas made headlines as she jumped from being ranked 65th on the male swimmers’ roster to being ranked 1st in the women’s league. The trans athlete has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for her transition.
While many came forward in support of Lia Thomas, several others accused the swimmer of having an unfair advantage. Ever since Thomas won the NCAA title in March, many have been protesting the win and demanded she be banned from women’s sports.
Lia Thomas, in an interview ahead of her NCAA title win, had revealed that she was determined to compete as a woman. Thomas revealed that she wants to be an inspiration for younger trans athletes to come out. According to the swimmer, no athlete should be made to choose between their identity and sport. Stating that she is unsure about her future, Thomas said that she wants to swim as herself without worries.
Speaking in an interview with Sports Illustrated ahead of the NCAA competition, Lia Thomas said:
“I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone. They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love… I don’t know exactly what the future of my swimming will look like after this year, but I would love to continue doing it. I want to swim and compete as who I am.”
Questions were first raised when Thomas began swimming for the Penn women’s team after three seasons competing against men. Protests against her competing in women’s competitions worsened when she started setting records. Despite the criticism, Thomas has tried to stay positive. While addressing the hate, the swimmer stated that she only viewed herself as a swimmer and was just 'trying to do her best.'
“I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team. I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It’s what I’ve done for so long; it’s what I love. I get into the water every day and do my best… I don’t look into the negativity and the hate. I am here to swim.”
Lia Thomas eyes the Olympics
It is pertinent to note that Lia Thomas continues to face hate as many, including politicians, are now demanding her ban from women’s sports. Thomas, along with Mike Schnur, Penn’s men’s and women’s coach, continues to receive hateful and threatening messages to date. However, the athlete doesn’t seem to be affected much by the threats.
Thomas is currently on course to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. She has already received backing from USA Swimming, who agreed to let her be part of the Olympic team if she passes the required criteria.