Female swimmers beaten by transgender Lia Thomas stand together as protests erupt at ‘unfair’ result

19 March 2022, 10:15 | Updated: 28 March 2022, 11:55

Lia Thomas (L) of the University of Pennsylvania stands on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists (L-R) Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde, pose together in protest
Lia Thomas (L) of the University of Pennsylvania stands on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists (L-R) Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde, pose together in protest. Picture: Getty

By Asher McShane

Three top college swimmers stood together for a photo on the podium after being beaten by transgender rival Lia Thomas, who was booed loudly as she claimed first place at an event in the US.

Ms Thomas, 22, made history this week by becoming the first transgender person to win a US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I title.

She won the 500-yard freestyle in Atlanta but received a chorus of boos. Emma Weyant, who came second, received cheers from the crowd. The University of Virginia swimmer was also declared the "real winner" by some spectators on social media.

Ms Thomas, who swims for the University of Pennsylvania, won with a time of four minutes, 33.24 seconds in Atlanta.

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Ms Weyant, who won the 400m individual medley silver at the Tokyo Olympics, finished 1.75secs behind in second while Erica Sullivan was third. Sullivan was a silver medallist at the Tokyo Games in the 1500m freestyle.

Ms Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men's team before beginning hormone replacement therapy in 2019. US swimming updated its policy earlier this year to allow transgender athletes to swim in elite events.

There were protests outside the event and in the stands at Georgia Tech on Friday.

One of the swimmers pictured on the podium later wrote an article giving her backing to Ms Thomas.

Olympic Swimmer Ms Sullivan, who came third, wrote an article in which she backed Lia Thomas, writing: "all athletes—including transgender athletes—deserve to be respected and included, exactly as we are."

After the incident she tweeted she had been taking a picture with her "friends from the Olympics" and denied that the photo of them together was a protest.

When asked about the response to her win after the race, Ms Thomas told ESPN: "I try to ignore it as much as I can, I try to focus on my swimming what I need to do to get ready for my races and I just try to block out everything else."

After the race the American Principles project tweeted: "This is Emma Weyant from the University of Virginia. 

"She finished in second place to Lia Thomas in the women's 500 Free at the NCAA national championships. 

"But she's the true winner to all of us."

Ms Thomas has undergone the required hormone treatment to meet the rules for transgender athletes, but critics say her performances prove that she still retains an unfair advantage as a result of her going through male puberty.