University of Pennsylvania transgender athlete Lia Thomas continued her strong showing at the Ivy League Championships, setting more swimming records while claiming her third title in three days.
Thomas’ win in the 100-yard freestyle was a school- and meet-record time of 47.63, and marked her third individual title at the Ivy championships following a dominating season.
Iszac Henig – a transgender man who swims for Yale´s women´s team – placed second in 47.82, followed by Princeton´s Nikki Venema in 48.81.
Thomas ended an intense week of scrutiny with a hug. Seconds after edging Henig, Thomas stepped out of the pool and walked to the back of the deck.
After taking a moment to towel off, the transgender swimmer for Penn turned to her right and embraced Henig.
The matchup was the culmination of strong championship performances by both athletes, who’ve dealt this week with increased media coverage of their personal stories as part of an ongoing national conversation about the rules that govern the participation of transgender athletes in college athletics.
Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, left, gets a hug from Yale’s Iszak Henig following the medal ceremony after Thomas won the 100-yard freestyle and Henig finished second at the Ivy League women’s swimming and diving championships at Harvard, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, center, Yale’s Iszak Henig, left, and Princeton’s Nikki Venema stand on the podium following a medal ceremony after Thomas won the 100-yard freestyle
Henig, left, applauds Thomas, right, after Thomas won the 100-yard freestyle final and Henig finished second
Thomas, left, is congratulated by Princeton’s Nikki Venema
Thomas’ latest win came after a sports expert claimed she deliberately underperformed during a recent race she won to make her advantage look less obvious.
By comparing lap times for the medalists at the Ivy League Women’s Championships’ 500-yard free on Thursday, CBS sports analyst Ross Tucker posited that the trans UPenn swimmer ‘produced a controlled effort below max for the race,’ suggesting that she underperformed to minimize the appearance of an advantage over competitors.
Thomas, who swam for the University of Pennsylvania‘s men’s team as recently as 2019 when she began medically transitioning to a woman, recorded the fastest time of all swimmers in the women’s 500-yard freestyle finals by a full seven seconds, as she won by half a pool length and broke a 15-year a pool record with a time of 4:37.32.
But Tucker thinks Thomas could have won by an even bigger margin, with race data suggesting she had considerable reserve energy that she chose not to expend.
She won the earlier preliminary heat by over five seconds, finishing in 4:41.19 – five seconds shy of the event’s meet record, and six less than the all-time NCAA record.
In second place was Penn sophomore Catherine Buroker, who posted a time of 4:44.83, a seasonal best. Princeton sophomore Ellie Marquardt — the defending Ivy League champion in the event — placed third in 4:46.63, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Comparing their lap-by-lap performance in a chart, Tucker asserted that Thomas’ pattern ‘suggests a significant reserve capacity and likely underperformance.’
Comparing their lap-by-lap performance in a chart (pictured), CBS Sports Analyst Ross Tucker asserted that Thomas’ pattern ‘suggests a significant reserve capacity and likely underperformance’
Thomas won the preliminary heat by over five seconds on Thursday, finishing in 4:41.19 – five seconds shy of the event’s meet record, and six less than the all-time NCAA record
Swimmer Lia Thomas of Penn, atop the podium after winning the 500 yard freestyle competition at the Women’s Swimming & Diving Championship at Harvard
Penn Universitys transgender swimmer Lia Thomas (R) fist bumps fellow swimmer Catherine Buroker (L) before swimming in the 500 yard freestyle race, which she took first place in with 4.37.32. Buroker placed in second with 4:44.83
Thomas is pictured on Saturday, when she won first place in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 15:59.71
‘Here are the 50-yard splits from the medalists in the women’s 500-yard freestyle final at the Ivy League champs,’ he captioned the graph on Twitter.
‘A 15-year old pool record was broken. Pacing strategy 101: Which of these patterns suggests a significant reserve capacity and likely underperformance?’
Ross Tucker (pictured) has a PhD in exercise physiology, according to the website for his Science of Sport podcast. He is a science and research consultant for World Rugby and an ambassador and scientific advisor to Virgin Active and Adidas
Thomas finished the first 50-yard lap of the race in about just under 26 seconds, before Buroker or Marquardt, according to the chart. In the second lap, she lets the other two swimmers take a slight lead, finishing a half-second slower than both of them.
Thomas finishes the next two laps in about 28.5 seconds, before finishing the next five in the range of 28 seconds. Then, in what Tucker called an ‘endspurt,’ where competitors expend a final burst of energy to try and win or break a record, Thomas finished the last lap in around 26.5 seconds.
In comparison, Buroker finished the last lap in about 27.7 seconds and Marquardt finished in 28.7 seconds. Throughout, both swimmers slow down gradually, then gradually pick up speed as they near the end of the race.
‘The progression of world records in distance events is the result of ‘flattening’ the curve. It used to be they started fast, slowed down, then sped up a bit (like the bronze medalist here). But optimal performances require flat lines,’ explained Tucker. ‘I’d say sliver is very close to this.’
‘But [Thomas] is an anomaly. This is a pattern that suggests a very comfortable effort, well managed and controlled, with significant capacity to go faster, realized in the final 50 yards only.’
In second place was Penn sophomore Catherine Buroker, who posted a time of 4:44.83, a seasonal best. Princeton sophomore Ellie Marquardt — the defending Ivy League champion in the event — placed third in 4:46.63
‘If [I] was a coach of that athlete, I’d be excited at the potential time if pacing was optimal,’ Tucker said.
‘In events lasting longer than about 3 min, negative pacing strategies and the characteristic endspurt (where we speed up at the end) are suggestive of someone who has maintained a reserve, producing a controlled effort below max for the race.’
A commenter pointed out that ‘men’s official record times are more like 4.06,’ and that Thomas’ winning time ‘would be far behind in a race with men.’ Last year, Kieran Smith of the University of Florida set the American record for the 500 freestyle with a time of 4.06.32, according to Swimmer’s World.
‘Yes quite,’ replied Tucker. ‘Which shows that relatively mediocre males can win in Women’s sport when they are allowed to enter it.’
Tucker has a PhD in exercise physiology, according to the website for his Science of Sport podcast. He is a science and research consultant for World Rugby and an ambassador and scientific advisor to Virgin Active and Adidas.
On Friday, Thomas won the 200-yard freestyle final with both a pool- and meet-record time of 1 minute, 43.12 seconds, eclipsing the marks set by Harvard’s Miki Dahlke in 2018 (1:45.00) and 2020 (1:43.78).
She entered the championship with the top time in the nation this year in the 200 freestyle (1:41.93).
John Lohn, the editor-in-chief of Swimmers World, also asserted that the transgender swimmer was ‘sandbagging’ in that race.
‘With Thomas producing splits of 52.14 and 50.98, it is clear that the Penn swimmer held back during the front half of the race and only shifted into a higher gear down the stretch,’ he wrote.
‘Thomas’ best for the season is her 1:41.93 outing from early December and it is highly likely that Thomas is sandbagging her races in order to avoid the additional attention she would garner with faster times.’
On Saturday, Thomas won first place in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 15:59.71.
Thomas is pictured during the meet on Thursday. The domination displayed by her and other trans athletes has raised concerns about their continued participation in the historic competition
Yesterday, Thomas won the 200-yard freestyle final with both a pool- and meet-record time of 1 minute, 43.12 seconds, eclipsing the marks set by Harvard’s Miki Dahlke in 2018 (1:45.00) and 2020 (1:43.78). She is pictured cheering on her teammates on Saturday, second from right
Thomas looks on after winning the 200 yard freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships
Thomas dives in for warmup before setting a pool record for the 200 yard freestyle competition on Friday
‘If you’ve been through male puberty you are going to be taller and have a bigger heart and lungs’
‘The key point is that there is a reason why we have separate male and female categories for sport – the reason is the biological differences between men and women,’ Chris Lavey, a solicitor advocate at the Bird & Bird Sports Group in London, said last year.
‘Obviously, there is a huge overlap in sporting ability between men and women,’ added Lavey, whose firm helped to draft the IOC guidelines on transgender participation.
‘But at the elite level of sport – in athletics, for example, you can compare men’s and women’s world records and you can see [the advantage] is about 10% or 12%, it can go up to 20% in some sports and it can be up to 30% in weightlifting. The empirical evidence and the science supports that.’
‘A trans woman challenges the binary categories that sport operates. Before they undergo any testosterone suppressive treatment, a trans woman is effectively a biological male, with XY chromosomes, testes, male (high) levels of testosterone, who – as a result – has all the physical advantages that any man has over any woman. And some physical advantages that result from high levels of testosterone while growing up will endure.
‘If you have been through a male puberty then you are going to have height advantages, bigger heart, bigger lungs, which will not be affected by testosterone suppression.
‘The science is becoming increasingly clear there are retained advantages even after testosterone suppression. Then the question becomes how, in light of that science, does a sports governing body juggle the competing priorities of fair competition, safety, and inclusion, and that can differ depending on the level at which the sport is played and the nature of the particular sport itself. It might be very different in Sunday league football compared to the Olympics.’
‘It is up to individual sports to consider the science and their policy goals, take a position and, if necessary, regulate.
Thomas’s repeated record-breaking performances have raised concerns about her continued participation in the historic competition. She is allowed to compete as a woman because she has completed a year of hormone treatment to lower her testosterone levels, but critics say going through male puberty still gives her considerable biological advantages, and point to her slew of wins as evidence.
U.S.A. Swimming earlier this month announced a new requirement that transgender women must suppress their testosterone levels for three years before competing, a rule under which Thomas would have been excluded.
It appeared that Thomas would then be barred from the N.C.A.A. championships in Atlanta in March, because the N.C.A.A. said they would follow U.S.A. Swimming rules.
However, last week, the N.C.A.A., the national body overseeing college sports, said that instituting a new policy in the middle of the season would be unfair — allowing Thomas to compete at the N.C.A.A. championships.
Her continued participation in women’s competition has proved deeply divisive, with former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – who won gold in the decathlon as Bruce Jenner – among those criticizing Thomas for swimming in women’s races.
‘If a cis woman gets caught taking testosterone twice, she’s banned for life, whereas Lia has had 10 years of testosterone,’ said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming and the president of the advocacy group Champion Women. Cisgender women are those who continue to identify as the sex they were born as.
‘It’s about the principle of having sport continue to be sex-segregated: having a space where women are really honored and where they can triumph,’ she said.
Hogshead-Makar coordinated a letter, signed by 16 of Thomas’s anonymous teammates, expressing concern about her participation.
‘We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman,’ the letter states, CNN reported.
‘Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we also realize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.
‘Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.’
Yet other members of the team spoke in support of Thomas.
‘We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition,’ the athletes said.
‘We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds.
‘We recognize this is a matter of great controversy and are doing our best to navigate it while still focusing on doing our best in the pool and classroom.’
Neither Thomas nor Henig were available for interviews after Saturday’s races, but they had lots of support inside the Harvard University Blodgett Pool complex.
Swimmers from multiple schools wore ‘8 Against Hate’ t-shirts, a conference-wide initiative aimed and denouncing all forms for hatred and discrimination.
Schuyler Bailar, who swam against Thomas when he competed for Harvard as one of the first openly transgender swimmers in the NCAA, was also in the stands. He said watching both Thomas and Henig in the pool this week was special.
‘It means a lot to me,’ he said. ‘When I was competing, I was the only openly trans person as far as I knew in NCAA swimming. … It felt very lonely at times. The last time I competed was here at this pool and the last time I was here was at that meet. So to come in and to to watch Lia and Iszac, both transgender swimmers in the Ivy League and in my home pool has been really powerful.’
While Thomas´ success has been met with some criticism, Bailar said the discussions are important for the future of athletics as a whole.
‘The fear is trans people are going to dominate sports. Cis people dominate sports. We have two here,’ Bailar said. ‘I think it´s incredibly important people know trans people exist. To hear our testimonies as humans. … I think a lot of people are missing the human part of this. Lia, me, Iszac – we are all real people. I think that part is really important that we all get to be seen as whole humans.
‘It´s so important for us to just talk about ourselves and be ourselves.’