ATLANTA — She came up short against male-born swimmer Lia Thomas, but Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant is being cheered as a winner after placing second at the NCAA Division I women’s swimming championships.
The 20-year-old Virginia freshman lost Thursday night’s 500-yard freestyle final to Thomas, the transgender University of Pennsylvania senior who won with a season’s best time of 4:33.24. Weyant touched second with a time of 4:34.99.
Even so, Weyant was the crowd favorite. She received the lion’s share of cheers at Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center. Her name also trended on social media as critics of rules allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports declared Weyant the “real winner.”
“Round of applause for Emma Weyant, the UVA swimmer who placed second in the 500y freestyle tonight, behind Lia Thomas. Second is the new first,” tweeted Angela Morabito, former Education Department press secretary in the Trump administration.
Other comments included “#EmmaWeyant is the rightful winner,” “#EmmaWeyant the real winner of that race,” and “#EmmaWeyant is the champ!”
“Congrats to Virginia freshman Emma Weyant, the woman who would have won tonight’s NCAA title in the 500 meter if women’s sports were still sane,” tweeted OutKick founder Clay Travis.
SEE ALSO: Lia Thomas makes history as first male-born swimmer to win Division 1 NCAA women’s championship
The right-tilting Independent Women’s Forum issued a statement to “congratulate Emma for being the true female winner of the race.”
“Shame on the NCAA for allowing XY athletes to compete in women’s championships,” said forum director Jennifer C. Braceras.
It turns out that the 22-year-old Thomas beat a trio of Olympians. Both the third- and fourth-place finishers in Thursday’s race were also Olympic silver medalists.
Coming in third Thursday was Texas freshman Erica Sullivan at 4:35.92. She won silver in the 1,500 freestyle last year at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which were delayed a year for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking fourth place was Stanford fifth-year swimmer Brooke Forde with a time of 4:36.18. She was the silver medalist in the 800 freestyle in Tokyo.
Weyant’s silver came in the 400 individual medley. The three Olympians posed together for a photo on the podium after the race a few feet away from Thomas.
In January, Forde issued a statement in support of Lia Thomas, noting the Penn swimmer had followed the NCAA rules on transgender athletes and saying that she would have no problem competing against Thomas.
“I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year,” said Forde, daughter of Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde.
Coming to Thomas’ defense Thursday was Sports Illustrated writer Robert Sanchez, who interviewed Thomas for a profile that ran March 3.
“We can — and should — have a vigorous debate over whether it was right to have Lia Thomas compete on the women’s team this season,” he tweeted. “But people have to acknowledge her humanity in this. She is neither a cheat (NCAA rules say she can swim) nor is she a liar (read my SI story).”
The 22-year-old Thomas has never competed in the Olympics but dominated the pool during the 2021-22 NCAA season after transitioning from male to female. Thomas previously swam for three years on Penn’s men’s team.
Thomas on Thursday became the first openly male-born swimmer to win an NCAA Division I women’s title. The first to win an NCAA crown of any kind was track-and-field athlete CeCe Telfer, who won a Division II championship in 2019.
Thomas is also slated to compete Friday in the 200 freestyle and Saturday in the 100 freestyle.
Thomas’ victory fueled opponents of male-to-female transgender swimmers in girls’ and women’s sports.
“Congrats to Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant, the fastest female in the 500-yard freestyle finals at the @NCAA Division I Champs,” tweeted Rosey McVay, co-founder of Save Women’s Sports Australasia. “It is not right that you can’t take your rightful place on the podium & shame on the @NCAA for allowing this to happen.”