(ATLANTA, Ga.) — Lia Thomas took control in the final 100 yards of the 500-yard freestyle to make history Thursday as the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship.
Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania senior who entered the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships as the top seed, had a season-best time of 4 minutes, 33.24 seconds.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectation for this meet,” said Thomas, a former male swimmer for Penn State. “I was just happy to be here and race and compete the best I could.”
Virginia’s Emma Weyant was second at 4:34.99.
It was close to the 100-yard mark, when Thomas took the lead from Erica Sullivan and Weyant of Texas. Thomas was the middle, while the others swam in lanes one through five. This added drama to the race.
Thomas finished stronger than she was on Thursday in the preliminary race. At 4:33.82, she won the preliminary race.
Sullivan came in third place at 4:35.92. Stanford’s Brooke Forde was fourth at 4:36.18.
Thomas is also the top-seed in Friday’s 200 freestyle and Saturday’s 100 freestyle.
Thomas started hormone replacement therapy as a transitional treatment in 2019 and has since followed NCAA rules.
Even within the sport, the inclusion of the transgender swimmer caused controversy. There were fewer than 10 protesters outside the Georgia Tech facility, and some carried banners which read “Save Women’s Sports” in the stands.
“I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas said. “I try to focus on my swimming .. and just try to block out everything else.”
Thomas spoke to ESPN shortly after the race, but he did not agree to participate in the NCAA’s official news conference. Since participation is required, possible action could come following evaluation by the NCAA’s swimming and diving championships committee.
Tennessee’s Julia Mrozinski won the consolation final with a time of 4:37.35. Northwestern’s Lola Mull was second.
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