Under Scrutiny in Routine Final Home Meet, Penn’s Lia Thomas Wins Twice

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Lia Thomas, far left, and fellow Penn seniors await senior day recognition Saturday in a tri-meet with Dartmouth and Yale

Under Scrutiny in Routine Final Home Meet, Penn’s Lia Thomas Wins Twice

If you kept your gaze low enough to ignore the four tables of media members atop the stands at Penn’s Sheerr Pool, and if you drowned out the clicking of camera shutters every time Lia Thomas neared the starting block, you would’ve gotten a thoroughly average, mundane swim meet Saturday afternoon.

The structure of women’s swimming was not fractured by Thomas or anyone else in an Ivy League tri-meet between Penn, Dartmouth and Yale. Instead, a swimmer who has made headlines recently swam a league meet. Deep into her winter training, she swam times well off her December bests. She won a couple of races, lost a couple and was celebrated for her accomplishments as a senior in the final home meet of the season.

Thomas has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent weeks. She competed for three seasons on the men’s teams before transitioning to women’s competition for her senior season at Penn. She set program records in the women’s distance events during the December invitational campaign, attaining NCAA A cuts in the 200 freestyle (1:41.93) and 500 free (4:34.06) and a B cut in the mile. The margin of victories in those races turned heads and inspired conversations about fairness in women’s sports.

But on Saturday, little outwardly gave away Thomas as anything but another swimmer on the Penn women’s team, save for the leering eyes that followed her. The native of Austin, Texas, lined up with 10 fellow seniors for an honor guard along the pool deck, got a hug from coach Mike Schnur and posed for a team photo with flower bouquets. She warmed up with her team – contrary to reports about irreparable rifts within the team – exchanged high fives after races and chatted with coaches after her races.

In the pool, a strong season continued for Thomas. She won the 200 free in 1:48.73, nearly nine seconds short of her season-best. It remains under the old pool record, that had stood since 2008 in the hands of Princeton’s Alicia Aemisegger. Thomas finished sixth in the women’s 100 free in 52.84. The win went to Izzi Henig in 49.57, within .15 seconds of Thomas’s pool record from the fall season.

After the break, Thomas won the 500 free in 4:57.20, just 1.47 seconds quicker than teammate Catherine Buroker in a Penn 1-2-3 finish. That mark was well slower than the Sheerr Pool record entering the season, held by Shelby Fortin since 2014, that Thomas had earlier downed. It was 22 seconds off Thomas’s best time this season.

Thomas anchored Penn’s A 400 free relay with a split of 51.94; she dove in third, and the team finished third. (Her split was slower than all four legs of Yale’s A squad, which won in 3:42.76.

The times are in line with expectations for this point of the season. Thomas and her teammates are fresh off a training trip to Florida, as zealously documented by paparazzi photos, in the process of ramping up to peak in the spring.

Neither Thomas nor her teammates nor Schnur were made available for comment to the media. Yale and Dartmouth likewise declined to makes athletes available for comment.

The Ivy League on Friday released a statement “reaffirm(ing) its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form.” Penn likewise declared it was “committed to be a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our student-athletes, coaches and staff and we hold true to that commitment today and in the future.”

Distractions from the action were minimal. Two protestors stood outside the David Pottruck Health & Fitness Center on Walnut Street, carrying a homemade sign that read “Stand up 4 Women.” (Via a bullhorn, they asked, “Why can’t Penn State see it’s wrong?”) There were more fans in the building wearing the light blue, pink and white transgender flag on apparel, both on masks and shirts. (Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance at the event was limited.) Thomas’ participation meant more media and a slightly busier than usual day for the Sweet Treat Hut on Meiklejohn Way outside the venue.

Saturday is not the measure, however, of Thomas’s impact on the swimming discourse this season, but rather a refuge in a long season. It marked the final home meet of the season for Penn, which has two dual meets remaining before the Ivy League Championships. The support for Thomas within the team has not been unanimous, as unnamed sources and parent protest letters have shown. Those conversations promise to only get more pitched with relay spots and postseason swims in the balance.

The NCAA could also complicate matters. It has thus far remained silent. As the Ivy League and Penn asserted, Thomas’s transition from the men’s team to the women’s has followed the NCAA’s guidance on transgender athletes.

Until then, Thomas is likely to continue going about her business as she did on Saturday, under however many eyes may be watching.

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Veritas
10 months ago

“The Ivy League on Friday released a statement ‘reaffirm(ing) its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form.’”

Every school in the Ivy League intentionally discriminates against Asians and Jews when it decides who to admit. When you start lying, it gets really hard to stop.

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Seth
10 months ago

Congratulations to Ms. Thomas, her teammates, her coach, and the support staff on their final home meet of the season.

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Reason
10 months ago

Henig’s (another trans, this time a woman identifying as a man) reaction to their win, ie, dropping the top of their suit to display mastectomy scars, sure looks like a big “FU” to everyone, and although a minor issue in unsportsmanlike conduct, it still says something.

And by the way: does a mastectomy not reduce drag? If so, how on earth can a voluntary mastectomy not be cheating?

Otherwise, congrats on the win.

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Ms.T
10 months ago
Reply to  Reason

So now we are discriminating against small breastfed women because of an advantage.

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Let's Stay Sane
10 months ago

1) allowing Thomas to swim on the women’s team is like allowing a 12-cylinder engine to compete in a race for 6-cylinder engines, no more, no less. It’s unfair and should be banned. Men by birth swim as men, transgender men swim as men. End of discussion.
2) the difference between 1:41.93 and 1:48.73 is nearly 7 seconds, not 9 seconds as printed above.

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Dude looks like a lady
10 months ago

This &$; is not ok. Anybody who thinks this ok should have their head examined.

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Relax
10 months ago

What are you guys so angry about? The team followed NCAA rules. Its not like she made this decision just so she could break school records. It probably is unfair to some of the people she is competing against, but its a reasonable accommodation with no long lasting impact.

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Mom
10 months ago
Reply to  Relax

The fact that Thomas is in the news is indicative of the fact that the NCAA rules aren’t fair.

Underlying the whole controversy is an underlying sense that fairness has been violated. All you have to do is look at the team pictures to see that Thomas is a biological male.

And this is the crux of the matter: in order to accommodate a male with gender dysphoria, biological females have had to give up their spots. This forces other people (women) to bear the burden of Thomas’s decision to “transition”. Thomas gets the mental health benefits of being able to swim….but at the expense of women that lose those same benefits. Nothing about this seems reasonable to me. If Thomas needs to transition, he should shoulder any negative impacts of his decision instead of pushing them onto other people.

Whether it has a lasting impact depends on whom you talk to. I suspect we’ll hear more about the impact Thomas’s decision has had on the women on the team after the NCAA championships or when the school year is over.

What is clear is that Thomas won’t be the last athlete to transition and reap huge athletic benefits from this decision unless the NCAA changes its rules.

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Lyra
10 months ago

Please explain how this is any different from what Rachel Dolezal did? She is a white woman who appropriated Black culture and identity by changing her physical characteristics to appear as a woman of color as was called out and, rightfully, condemned for it. Her reasoning was that she “felt Black.” However, simply changing her appearance didn’t erase all the white Privilege she experienced growing up. That’s what pisses off most cisfemales about this-she can’t erase her Male Privilege and by the looks of it she hasn’t even tried.

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Mom
10 months ago
Reply to  Lyra

There is no such thing as a cisfemale. There are only females. “Transwomen” are male.

Don’t let a minority of men appropriate the word “female” or “women” for their own benefit.