Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming title, took command in the final 100 yards of the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday.
Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who was seeded first in the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, set 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.”
Emma Weyant of Virginia came in second with a time of 4:34.99.
Until the final 100 yards, the race was close, with Weyant and Erica Sullivan of Texas battling for the lead. With Thomas in the center, the three swam in lanes three through five, adding to the drama.
Thomas was stronger in the end, just as he was in the preliminary win on Thursday morning. With a time of 4:33.82, she won the preliminary race.
Sullivan came in third with a time of 4:35.92. Brooke Forde of Stanford finished fourth in 4:36.18.
Thomas is also the top seed in Friday’s 200 freestyle and the 10th seed in Saturday’s 100 freestyle.
Thomas began her transition in 2019 by commencing hormone replacement medication and has followed NCAA and Ivy League guidelines since then.
Even inside the sport, the admission of the transgender swimmer sparked debate. Outside the Georgia Tech venue, there were fewer than ten demonstrators, some of whom had signs in the stands that read “Save Women’s Sports.”
“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 with ESPN shortly after the race, but he declined to take part in the NCAA-mandated press conference. Because participation is required, the NCAA’s swimming and diving championships committee may take action after an evaluation.
Julia Mrozinski of Tennessee won the consolation final in 4:37.35. Lola Mull of Northwestern came in second.