'Trans athlete stole my spot in final': Swimmer who lost out to Lia Thomas breaks silence

21 March 2022, 15:07 | Updated: 21 March 2022, 16:10

2022 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championship
2022 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championship. Picture: Getty

By Megan Hinton

A swimmer has hit out at the National Collegiate Athletic Association for "not protecting" biologically female athletes, after she missed out on a final spot at its championships to a transgender rival.

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Reka Gyorgy of Virginia Tech finished 17th in the freestyle swimming competition, meaning she was one place outside of making the consolation final, in an event that transgender swimmer Lia Thomas won.

After the defeat, the Reka Gyorgy took to social media to accuse the Lia of "stealing" her place in the finals claiming "every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females".

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.

Ms Thomas previously swam for the Pennsylvanian men's team before beginning hormone replacement therapy in 2019.

But US swimming updated its policy earlier this year, to allow transgender athletes to swim in elite events.

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In an open letter posted on Reka Gyorgy's private Instagram she wrote: "With all due respect, I would like to address something that is a problem in our sport right now and hurting athletes, especially female swimmers.

"Everyone has heard and known about transgender swimmer, Lia Thomas, and her case including all the issues and concerns that her situation brought into our sport.

"I’d like to point out that I respect and fully stand with Lia Thomas; I am convinced that she is no different than me or any other D1 swimmer who has woken up at 5am her entire life for morning practice.

"She has sacrificed family vacations and holidays for a competition. She has pushed herself to the limit to be the best athlete she could be. She is doing what she is passionate about and deserves that right.

"On the other hand, I would like to critique the NCAA rules that allow her to compete against us, who are biologically women."

"I’m writing this letter right now in hopes that the NCAA will open their eyes and change these rules in the future. It doesn’t promote our sport in a good way and I think it is disrespectful against the biologically female swimmers who are competing in the NCAA," she added.

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.

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"It feels like the final spot was taken from me because of the NCAA’s decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete," she wrote.

"I know you could say I had the opportunity to swim faster and make the top 16, but this situation makes it a bit different and I can’t help but be angry or sad. It hurts me, my team and other women in the pool. One spot was taken away from the girl who got 9th in the 500 free and didn't make it back to the A final preventing her from being an All-American.

"Every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet."

Gyorgy ended the latter saying the controversy surrounding the win "is the result of the NCAA and their lack of interest in protecting their athletes".

"I ask the NCAA takes time to think about all the other biological women in swimming, try to think how the would feel if they would be in our shoes. Make the right changes for our sport and for a better future in swimming," the letter concluded.

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Reka Gyorgy is not the only athlete to publicly criticise the NCAA's decision to allow transgender women to comepte in events after three college swimmers who were also beaten by Lia Thomas staged a protest on the podium, with Ms Thomas being booed loudly as she claimed first place.

GB Olympic medallist Sharron Davies MBE also told LBC that women have "lost the ability to win their own races" because trans athletes compete in female categories.

"Athletes have been silenced, coaches have been silenced, people have been silenced from voicing their honest concerns" about trans inclusion in female sport, Sharron Davies told Andrew Castle.

Ms Davies argued that "Lia Thomas is still a male", stating that because Ms Thomas has gone through male puberty she has an advantage over her competitors even before hormones come into the debate.

"Women are going to lose the ability to win their own races."

Andrew backed Ms Davies' points, stating that the ethical concerns are "so obvious".

The former GB athlete called for a "protected female classification and an open, inclusive classification" to solve the issue.

"Women are now being discriminated against in their own category of sport" she went on, telling listeners that "we spend millions around the world to stop people cheating with drugs", suggesting that trans athletes gain an advantage on par with doping.

"The conversation has been closed down and that's the toxic part."