- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Transgender athlete Lia Thomas heads into the Ivy League women’s swimming championship as the favorite in three events — and the second seed in a fourth race — as the meet begins Wednesday in Boston amid a national debate over fairness and inclusion in women’s sports.

The University of Pennsylvania senior secured the No. 1 seed in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle, and the second seed in the 100-yard freestyle. She also is expected to participate in relay events at the end-of-season meet hosted by Harvard University at Blodgett Pool.

Thomas dominated the freestyle events in her first year on the women’s team after swimming for three years on the men’s side before her transitioning, spurring a backlash from advocates for women’s sports and rule changes by the NCAA.

Her best times are well ahead of those of the second seeds: Her top time in the 200 leads by nearly five seconds, by 13 seconds in the 500 and by 24 seconds in the 1,650, according to the psych sheets posted by Swimming World.

“This setup is dominance, and the antithesis of what Thomas displayed when she previously raced at the Ivy League Men’s Championships,” said Swimming World editor-in-chief John Lohn, a critic of the NCAA rules on transgender eligibility, in a Monday op-ed.

The Ivy League announced last month that Thomas would be eligible to compete at the Feb. 16-19 championships after the NCAA did a mid-season flip on transgender athletes in January.

The NCAA announced that it would defer to the national sports federations on rules for transgender athletes, and then backtracked when USA Swimming issued a tougher standard that Thomas would not be able to meet in time for the 2022 championships.

The NCAA had previously said that male-born transgender athletes must undergo a year of testosterone suppression, which Thomas has done. Last week, the NCAA said it would require transgender competitors to keep their testosterone level under 10 nanomoles/Liter ahead of the championships.

That standard, which was previously used by the International Olympic Committee, is one that some transgender athletes have been able to meet despite being at the low end of the male-testosterone range of about 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/L.

Penn Athletics issued a Jan. 6 statement of support for Thomas, the same day the Ivy League said Thomas would be eligible to compete and expressed its “unwavering support to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form.”

Sixteen anonymous female Penn swimmers expressed their support in a letter two weeks ago for the more stringent USA Swimming rules, which would have prevented Thomas from participating.

Lohn blasted the Penn and Ivy League statements, saying fairness for women’s athletes was the issue, not transphobia.

“[F]or the Ivy League to play the transphobia card is arrogant, ignorant, and insulting,” he said. “Really, it is a sign of the conference taking a bully approach and using such a strong term to intimidate and deter those willing to speak out.”

Advocates for female athletes argue that Thomas, as a male-born swimmer who has undergone puberty, enjoys unfair physical advantages that female competitors cannot match.

“Must give credit to the Ivy League. It didn’t hide its position,” said Lohn. “From the early days of the Lia Thomas debate, the conference made it clear that it would wholly support one swimmer over hundreds of athletes. It made it clear that Thomas was a priority. It made it clear that its female athletes — specifically its swimmers — were inconsequential.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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