Lia Thomas became the first transgender swimmer to win a major US college title earlier this year. The University of Pennsylvania athlete won the 500-yard freestyle event at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One national championship. Thomas stunned the sporting world with her title-winning performance at the Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.
The 22-year-old athlete has been in the news ever since. Lia Thomas has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for the win. Several critics, competitors and even some of her own teammates, have openly spoken against Thomas’ eligibility to compete against other women. Many claimed that the transgender swimmer had an unfair advantage over her competitors.
Thomas won the NCAA title in March. According to USA Swimming’s policy, transgender athletes must undergo three years of hormone replacement therapy to be eligible for competition. However, Thomas was six months short of this when she appeared at the competition. Despite the rules, she was allowed to compete by the officials. This too partly added to the criticism she received.
The controversial athlete, who largely ignored the criticism, once opened up on the same. Addressing the issue, Lia Thomas said that the transition was her choice. Shutting claims of unfair advantage over her competitors, Thomas said that she didn’t transition to win but "to be happy". She told ESPN in an interview that people were wrong to assume the reason behind her transition.
“The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned. People will say, ‘Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.’ I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself.”
The trans athlete’s comments came as Republican governors signed legislation banning transgender women from participating in women’s sports.
“Trans women competing in women’s sports does not threaten women’s sports as a whole. Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”
Lia Thomas slammed the criticism and went on to state that she would continue to fight for trans rights. Thomas added that she had become “more passionate” about trans equality after the harsh criticism she received.
Lia Thomas has eyes set on the Olympics
Originally from Austin, Texas, Lia Thomas joined the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team in her senior year. Before transitioning, Thomas competed for three seasons as part of the men’s team. The swimmer jumped to being number one on the women’s team in the 500-yard freestyle. She was ranked 65th on the men’s team.
Despite the criticism, Thomas has revealed that she is ready to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympic trials. This was received negatively by many. However, USA Swimming officials came forward to state that the swimmer could represent the US contingent at the Paris Olympics if she meets the criteria to compete in the women’s category. This is currently in question as many have demanded a ban on the athlete.