Moment trans UPenn swimmer, 22, absolutely destroys her rivals in women’s freestyle event – winning by 38 seconds: Sparks fury by smashing two women’s records one year after competing as a male

  •  Lia Thomas, 22, smashed two U.S. swimming records at an Akron, Ohio contest 
  • Thomas won the 1,650 freestyle in a record time of 15:59.71 beating her closest rival Anna Sofia Kalandaze by 38 seconds – a record for the Zippy Meet, and the pool where the event took place
  • Video of the astonishing defeat was posted online, showing Thomas consistently ahead of her nearest opponents, eventually becoming nearly a full lap ahead 
  • She also left rivals floundering in a 500 freestyle beating them by 14 seconds 
  • Last month she competed in a women’s swimming event between Princeton and Cornell and has regularly broken records as part of UPenn’s team 
  • Thomas previously competed for the school’s men’s team for three years before joining the women’s team. Her last men’s competition was in November 2019
  • Some have voiced their anger at her swimming success, claiming it to be ‘unfair,’ and many refused to refer to her as a woman 
  • NCAA rules dictate any trans female athlete can take part in women’s events if they have completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment 

Lia Thomas, 22, (pictured after transitioning) is now dominating women’s college swimming records

Video posted online shows the moment a transgender swimmer and senior at the University of Pennsylvania, who had spent three years competing as a man, smashed two US records while competing in a weekend contest – sparking new claims of unfairness.

Lia Thomas, 22, put in an astounding performance at the Zippy Invitational Event in Akron, Ohio on Sunday, when she finished the 1,650 yard freestyle 38 seconds ahead of her teammate, Anna Sofia Kalandaze. 

Thomas’s winning time was 15:59:71, with her UPenn teammate Anna Kalandaze coming second with a time of 16:37:44. 

Thomas’s win was a record for the Zippy Meet, and the pool where the event took place. 

Video from the meet shows Thomas starting out a full torso length ahead of her closest competitor, eventually becoming half a lap, and then nearly a full lap, ahead of her nearest opponent.

She consistently finished the laps at quicker speeds than her opponents, and when she won, the scoreboard flashed her record-setting time to complete the race, at 15:59:71.

It was the third record Thomas was able to beat at the Zippy Invitational over the weekend. 

The first US record was broken on Friday, December 3, when Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:34:06. She raced to victory 14 seconds ahead of Kalandaze – the swimmer she beat by 38 seconds on Sunday.

And then on Saturday, she won the 200 yard freestyle in 1:41:93 – seven seconds ahead of her nearest rival, giving her the fastest female US time ever for that race too.  

It’s the first season Thomas, who was formerly named Will, has competed in the swimming meets as a transgender woman. As Will, Thomas competed on the men’s team for two full seasons.

Her success, though, has drawn criticism from some claiming she has an unfair advantage, as those who were born male tend to have more upper-body strength.

According to NCAA regulations, any transgender female athlete can take part in women’s events if they have completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment.

Video from the Zippy Invitational on Sunday showed Lia Thomas, 22, beating out her nearest opponents, and consistently staying ahead of them at the women’s 1,650 yard freestyle

The victory on Sunday comes after Thomas also won three events and set three new school records including two new Ivy League records.

On Friday night, Thomas managed to win the 500-yard freestyle in 4:34.06. The result set a new record, Akron pool record, Penn school record and the Ivy League record. 

On Saturday she won the 200 free with a pool, meet and program record time of 1:41.93, some 7 seconds clear of second place.  

The winning result also meets The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) standard required to qualify which means Thomas will be automatically entered to compete in the national championship meet in Atlanta next March. 

Thomas also took part in a 200 freestyle relay, 400 medley relay coming fourth  and 50-yard freestyle sprint in which she came sixth.  

This weekend, Lia Thomas won three events and set three new school records including two new Ivy League records. She is pictured setting the record at the 500 yard freestyle on December 3

At one point during the race, she was able to get half a lap ahead of her nearest opponent, eventually edging them out by nearly a full lap at the invitational


Thomas (pictured in 2016 and 2017, respectively) was a star swimmer in high school 

Thomas won the 1,650 freestyle in a record time of 15:59.71 beating her closest rival Anna Sofia Kalandaze, pictured above, by 38 seconds

Thomas managed to win three events and set three new school records and some Ivy League records over the weekend

But as Thomas continues to crush records in women’s events, it has also sparked outrage amid controversy surrounding transgender athletes. 

It is unknown when Thomas began transitioning, but NCAA rules state she had to have completed one year of testosterone suppression treatment in order to compete. 

Critics say trans female athletes can still have considerable advantages over their cisgender female rivals, because of height and weight advantages they may retain even after hormone treatment. 

Thomas’s last known men’s event was November 16, 2019. 

Earlier this year, Thomas said she felt grateful in being allowed to keep swimming.

‘The process of coming out as being trans and continuing to swim was a lot of uncertainty and unknown around an area that’s usually really solid,’ she told Penn Today in June. ‘Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like?’ 

Nevertheless, Thomas’ participation has led to criticism on social media.

‘This should outrage every person who’s ever advocated for women in athletics,’ wrote Jessica Cole.

‘A disgrace for all the hard working female swimmers,’ added Claude Gregory.  

Two weeks ago, during a tri-meet with Cornell and Princeton universities on November 20, the senior ‘blasted’ UPenn records in the 200m and 500m freestyle – posting times that beat almost every other female swimmer across America.

With a time of 1:43:47 in the 200m freestyle, Thomas would have been in line to secure a silver medal at the NCAA Women’s Championships, while her 4:35:06 in the 500m freestyle would have been good enough to win bronze. 

PennAthletics declares:’Because of her strong swims in the 200 and 500 free this weekend, she will have a chance to become the first transgender student-athlete to be a Division I All-American, or even national champion.’ 

Thomas is the first trans woman to compete in NCAA women’s swimming since Natalie Fahey, from Illinois, took part in the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference swimming championships. 

Thomas’ participation in the sport is the latest controversy in the ongoing argument over whether trans people should be allowed to compete alongside athletes of their chosen gender, with particular debate over whether it’s fair for trans female athletes to compete against cis female rivals . 

UPenn swim team recently posted about one of Lia’s records in the 500m freestyle (pictured)

Will Thomas pictured swimming on the UPenn 2018-19 men’s team

The tall athlete towers over her teammate Hannah Liu (left) as the pair pose together 

Transgender athletes who have sparked controversy competing in women’s sports

Trans women have sparked a firestorm of debate about their participation in women’s sports. 

In June, transgender hurdler CeCe Telfer was barred from competing in the US Olympic trials after she failed to prove she could meet the testosterone requirements at the time.

The 5 nmol/L testosterone level, considered to be the highest a female-born woman would naturally have, was set by World Athletics in 2019 for members who want to join the US Olympic team to compete in women’s races of distances between 400 meters and one mile. 

Transgender runner CeCe Telfer

Another American athlete, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe, travelled to the Tokyo Olympic Games as an alternative.

She became the first transgender Olympian on Team USA. She did not compete in the Olympics. 

Chelsea Wolfe BMX biker 

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard announced in August that she was retiring in the wake of her controversial appearance this summer at the Tokyo Olympics, where she failed to complete a single lift.

The 43-year-old, who transitioned in 2012, competed in the women’s 87kg+ category for New Zealand but crashed out after making history as the first trans woman to compete in a solo event. But she failed to record a single valid snatch lift in Tokyo. 

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard 

Speaking in June to Penn Today, the university’s newspaper, about her ability to continue competing as a trans athlete, Thomas said: ‘Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding.’  

Thomas, who is co-chair of the Penn Non-Cis club, for trans and non-cisgender people, also said at the time that swimming is ‘a huge part of my life and who I am.’

‘I’ve been a swimmer since I was five years old. The process of coming out as being trans and continuing to swim was a lot of uncertainty and unknown around an area that’s usually really solid. Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like?’

She also said: ‘One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone. Even if you don’t pay attention to the news … [about] states proposing and passing vicious anti-trans legislation, it can feel very lonely and overwhelming. 

Lia’s success has reignited the debate, as she was a key component in her team’s success in the 400m freestyle relay, and she swept the board when it came to 100m, 200m and 500m freestyle individual events. 

Several people have voiced their anger over Thomas’ recent success in the women’s events. 

Sport performance coach Linda Blade responded to Thomas’ most recent event by saying: ‘Well of course women’s records are being smashed! Lia competed as male for first three years in #NCAA. This is not right! 

‘We need to return to #SexBasedSports! #SexNotGender to preserve fairness for female athletes.’

One person said: ‘How many people were involved in this swim meet and not one of them stood up and said this is wrong?’  

While a third said: ‘How can anybody look at that and say that it is fair for Lia Thomas to swim against women?’

Another user was outraged that his daughters, who swim competitively, have ‘worked their a**es off’ to get where they are for Thomas to dominate the sport. 

‘My two daughters swim competitively. They practice 3-4 times a week almost year round. My girls and many others work their ass off for years and even decades. This kind of shit angers me to no end. This is not progress.’ 

A Pennsylvania user agreed, commenting: ‘I stand by you and your girls sir! This is ridiculous on so many levels! And ‘Lia Thomas’ has the nerve to say that competition so far has been very rewarding? Yeah I bet! Since you’re a man competing against women! This should not be allowed?’ 

Others played on the swimmer’s chosen name and saying she should ‘add the ‘r,” while others refused to reference Thomas as a female. 

‘He has changed his name from Will to Lia Thomas. He forgot to add the ‘r’ to the end of his new name,’ one said.  

‘A MAN named Lia Thomas smashed college records,’ another wrote. 

A third said: ‘Imagine being the women in second place knowing that they will never have the physical advantages of the male who beat them.’ 

However, criticism was not universal, with sport inclusivity educator Kirsti Miller sharing a number of women’s swimming records and comparing them to Thomas’ best results.

She claimed that the fact Thomas was behind in all the records meant that she was in no way ‘dominating’ women’s swimming. 

Lia Thomas is pictured as Will, before she transitioned

Previously, Thomas (pictured as Will, before transitioning) competed for UPenn’s men’s swimming team for three years before having a year off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her last event for the men’s team was on November 16, 2019

Lia Thomas’ success has sparked outrage amid controversy over transgender athletes competing in sports alongside other competitors opposite of the gender they were assigned at birth, with many claiming a ‘man’ broke her recent women’s records. Pictured: Lia in 2020

While former swim coach Emma McGee voiced her support for Lia, saying: ‘Since no one else is saying it- congrats to her!’    

Previously, Thomas competed for the university’s men’s swimming team, competing for three years before having a year off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The rules state: ‘A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.’ 

 

A number of people voiced their anger at Thomas being allowed to compete in women’s swimming competitions

The guidelines also make clear that: ‘A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.’

In addition, if a sports team has been classified as a mixed team as a result of the inclusion of a trans woman who has undergone none or less than one year of testosterone suppression treatment, this classification remains in place for the remainder of the academic year ‘without exception.’ 

Earlier this year, Olympic officials also announced that rules for allowing transgender athletes to participate in women’s competitions will be changed. 

Officials say the current guidelines, set in 2015, are not fit for purpose and should be adapted to catch-up with advancements in science and testing. 

A push towards each individual sport setting their own rules is one of the likely outcomes – in a bid to move away from the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

And according to The Guardian, the new guidelines will suggest that trans women should no longer be required to reduce their testosterone levels to compete. 

Though the bitter response to Thomas’ recent success wasn’t universal, with some congratulating the student athlete, and one person even pointing out how her results proved she wasn’t ‘dominating’ the sport

Thomas (pictured recently) is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania 

Thomas (pictured first row, right in 2020) said it’s rewarding to be able to continue the sport 

And in a reversal of the IOC’s previous stance, the new guidelines, set to be rolled out after the Beijing Winter Olympics, say that there should be no presumption that trans women have an automatic advantage over other women.

Despite this, the IOC will still permit individual sporting associations to dictate their own rules on trans athletes. 

Trans athletes have sparked controversy in the past, including American sprinter CeCe Telfer, who was barred from competing in the US Olympic trials after she failed to prove she could meet the testosterone requirements at the time.

The 5 nmol/L testosterone level, considered to be the highest a female-born woman would naturally have, was set by World Athletics in 2019 for members who want to join the US Olympic team to compete in women’s races of distances between 400 meters and one mile. 

In the Tokyo 2021 Summer Games, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe travelled to the Tokyo Games as an alternate, and in doing so, became the first transgender Olympian on Team USA.

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard also made history by becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Games.

But the New Zealander’s Olympic debut – which sparked much debate prior to the games – was not a fruitful one.

Hubbard, 43, who transitioned in 2012, crashed out of the women’s +87kg (+190lb) weightlifting competition without registering a successful ‘snatch’ lift. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is set to change its guidelines on trans athletes to say that trans women should no longer be required to reduce their testosterone levels to compete

Meanwhile, some states in the U.S. are imposing restrictions on transgender athletes in public school sports. 

In October, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that bans athletes in public schools from competing alongside the gender with which they identify, mandating that they must compete as the sex listed on their birth certificate.

Texas became the sixth state to enact such restrictions by signing the bill on October 25, with proponents saying the bill, named HB-25, will ‘protect girls’, while critics have branded it a ‘cruel’ and ‘discriminatory’ measure that further ‘stigmatizes’ trans athletes.

The bill, which becomes law in January, overrides a previous provision to state law that allowed trans students to get a court order permitting them to compete as the gender with which they identify with the help of an amended birth certificate.

However, trans athletes in Texas were already barred from vying in state competition under guidelines from its University Interscholastic League, which governs high school sports.

The new law was passed 76-61 in the House of Representatives and a 19-12 vote in the Senate before reaching Abbott, who declined to publicly comment on the bill while signing it.

And in June this year, Florida’s Republican governor signed a bill barring transgender females from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls, plunging the state into the national culture war over transgender rights.

‘In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports,’ Governor Ron DeSantis said as he signed the bill into law at a Christian academy in Jacksonville. ‘We’re going to make sure that that’s the reality.’

The law, sure to face court challenges, inflames an already contentious discussion unfolding nationally as Republican-controlled states move to limit the rights of LGBTQ people. It also could impose severe financial consequences on Florida.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (left)  signed a bill earlier this year barring transgender females from playing on Florida public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls, and transgender athletes in Texas must compete as their assigned sex at birth according to a law Governor Greg Abbott (right) signed in October

What do the rules say? 

According to the NCAA Policy on Transgender Student-Athlete Participation, a trans female must have undergone at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment before being eligible to compete on a women’s team.

The rules state: ‘A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.’

The guidelines also make clear that: ‘A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.’

In addition, if a sports team has been classified as a mixed team as a result of the inclusion of a trans woman who has undergone none or less than one year of testosterone suppression treatment, this classification remains in place for the remainder of the academic year ‘without exception’.

Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia have already passed similar legislation and South Dakota’s governor has signed an executive order supporting a sports ban. All have Republican governors.

Supporters of the sports bills say they are needed to preserve fairness, asserting that biologically born women and girls would be at a disadvantage against transgender athletes who were born as male but have since transitioned to female.

DeSantis signed the bill flanked by several teenage women athletes. He said the law was needed to ensure fairness for women participating in sports across the state.

‘We are going to go based off biology, not based off ideology when we are doing sports,’ he said.

The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, said it would challenge the Florida law in court as having been based on a ‘false, discriminatory premise’ that threatened the wellbeing of transgender children.

‘Transgender kids are kids; transgender girls are girls. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and be a part of a team,’ Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.

Elsewhere, former Olympic gold medal winner Caitlyn Jenner waded into the controversy, back in May this year, saying she opposes trans women competing in female sports.

Jenner, who was one of the US’s most successful athletes in the decathlon during the 1970s and won gold in the Montreal Olympics in 1976, announced that she was a trans woman back in 2015.

When asked about her thoughts on trans women competing in sports with other women, Jenner said: ‘This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school. It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.’ 

And only a third of Americans believe trans athletes should be allowed to compete on teams that don’t match the sex they were assigned at birth, a poll found earlier this year.

Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey — conducted May 3 – 18 by telephone interviews with 1,016 randomly selected adults living in the US — showed that 62 percent said transgender athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Only 34 percent said they should be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity.

Gallup researchers explained that the issue of sports policies pertaining to transgender athletes is ‘fairly new to many Americans, and that their opinions on LGBT issues have changed over time, often in big ways.’

‘Sizable majorities of Americans have expressed consistent support for transgender military service in recent years, whereas this first measure on sports policies suggests that they are not viewing the two issues the same.’

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