Amid protests, UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas becomes first known transgender athlete to win Division I national championship. Penn’s Lia Thomas won the 500 freestyle final at the 2022 NCAA Swimming Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, with a time of 4:33.24.
Lia Thomas finished 1.75 seconds ahead of second-place Emma Weyant, who attends Virginia. Thomas’ time was a season best and a little more than 9 seconds off of Katie Ledecky’s 4:24.06 record.
The race began with the crowd cheering for each of the swimmers, but fans were noticeably quiet for the UPenn swimmers mas’ introduction. Save Women’s Sports founder Beth Stelzer draped a vinyl banner with the organization’s phrase over the railing.
During the race, the trans swimmer was alternately tested by Olympians Brooke Forde (Stanford), Erica Sullivan (Texas) and Weyant. Thomas led early, but was passed by Sullivan and trailed for most of the first half of the race. Thomas and Weyant went stroke-for-stroke in the back half of the race, but Thomas pulled away over the final 150 yards to win her first national championship.
“It means the world to be here,” Thomas said in an interview with Elizabeth Beisel after the race.
Lia Thomas, who declined to attend the NCAA-required postrace news conference, told Beisel she has been trying to tune out the distractions. “I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas said. “I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races. And just try to block out everything else.”
As the transgender athlete stood on the podium with her trophy, she flashed a peace sign, just as she did for her four Ivy League championships. And once again, the crowd was noticeably quiet as she was announced as the champion.