Lia Thomas finishes eighth in 100-yard freestyle, ultimate race of collegiate swimming profession


ATLANTA — Penn swimmer Lia Thomas’ collegiate swimming profession ended with an eighth place end within the 100-yard freestyle on Saturday. Thomas, a transgender girl, posted a time of 48.18 seconds, 0.81 seconds slower than her qualifying time of 47.37 seconds.

Virginia freshman Gretchen Walsh received the title in 46.05 seconds to land her first particular person NCAA championship. It was a well-known spot for Virginia swimmers, who received seven particular person titles and 4 relays to propel the Cavaliers to their second straight nationwide championship in dominant vogue.

Walsh, who was a part of all 4 of Virginia’s profitable relays, received off to a sluggish begin within the 100, however gained steam over the ultimate 50 to go Alabama senior Morgan Scott.

Yale junior Iszac Henig, a transgender man, completed with a profession finest 47.32 seconds to tie for fifth place. Henig is eligible to compete within the ladies’s class as a result of he hasn’t begun hormone remedy.

Thomas was in eighth after the primary 50, and Henig was in fifth, which is the place they each finally completed. Thomas was the one finalist to go slower than her qualifying time.

Throughout introductions, as has develop into customary at this meet, Thomas’ title was met with scattered cheers, a few boos and noticeable quiet.

Thomas and Henig got here into the 100 free ultimate because the fourth and eighth seeds, respectively. They each completed their qualifying heats in second place. The final time they squared off was in February on the Ivy League championships. Thomas received the higher of Henig there, taking dwelling the convention title. In Atlanta, Henig avenged that loss.

“It was electrical,” Henig stated to ESPN. “Lia and I are associates, and it is all the time good to swim in opposition to your mates and have somebody up there that you realize. It was unimaginable.”

On the rostrum after the awards ceremony, Thomas and Henig posed for a photograph collectively and embraced in celebration. Each swimmers wrote “Let trans youngsters play” on their arms for the race.

“There are such a lot of payments in several states proper now making an attempt to ban trans ladies from sport in any respect completely different ranges,” Henig stated. “We’re not allowed to have something on our garments, however the guidelines do not say something about our pores and skin. So I took the platform I hoped to need to say that trans athletes are similar to some other athlete. We deserve to have the ability to play and construct neighborhood.”

The 100 free capped a months-long controversy surrounding Thomas. Ever since she received the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyle in Akron, Ohio, on the Zippy Invitational in December, her title has stayed within the information.

First it was gawking on the occasions she put up and their proximity to Katie Ledecky’s 500 freestyle and Missy Franklin’s 200 freestyle data. Though Thomas was 10 seconds off Ledecky’s tempo and over 2 seconds off of Franklin’s, she was seemingly inside placing distance in December.

Many within the swimming neighborhood questioned how briskly Thomas can be after a season of coaching and a full taper heading into the NCAA championships.

That core query was lastly answered in Atlanta. Thomas competed in three particular person occasions: the 500, 200 and 100 freestyle. She made all three championship finals (A-finals in swimming parlance), making her a three-time All-American. She positioned eighth within the 100, tied for fifth within the 200 and received the 500, ending 9 seconds off Ledecky’s file. Thomas set no pool, meet or American data throughout the meet. Aside from a poolside interview after the 500, she didn’t converse to media.

“I undoubtedly really feel for her,” Wisconsin freshman Paige McKenna stated after profitable the 1,650 freestyle. “It was robust coming in right here, the state of affairs she was in. With this complete expertise, folks must learn to deal with different folks with extra respect. I respect her a lot. What she did was actually exhausting and he or she dealt with it rather well.”

The strain ramping as much as Thursday evening was a combination of anticipation, emotion from the protestors inside and outdoors the pool and uncertainty of how Thomas would carry out.

“[Thursday] was tense,” stated Elizabeth Beisel, an Olympian and two-time NCAA champion at Florida who labored as an analyst for the ESPN broadcast of the swimming championships. “Everybody was holding their breath on the deck. Lia swam. Lia received. [On Friday] it felt like we have been again to a traditional swim meet. It is felt much more relaxed because the meet has gone on. It feels precisely like some other NCAA meet.”

The presence on the rostrum was certainly very like it was a yr in the past, with the Cavaliers making frequent journeys to the highest spots. The Cavaliers received with 551.5 factors, adopted by Texas with 406 factors and Stanford with 399.5 factors. In typical swimming celebration, the entire Virginia group jumped into the diving pool as “We Are The Champions” by Queen performed on the loudspeaker.

Arguably probably the most spectacular champion of all was Virginia junior Kate Douglass, who received the 50 free (20.84), the 100 butterfly (49.04) and the 200 breaststroke (2:02.19) and set American data in all three. Like Gretchen Walsh, Douglass was a part of all 4 profitable Virginia relays. Sophomore Alex Walsh, Gretchen’s sister, additionally received three particular person titles — within the 200 fly and the 200 and 400 particular person medleys. She was additionally on three profitable relay groups. Her profitable time of 1:50.08 within the 200 IM was an American file.

Different notable performances got here from NC State’s Kate Berkhoff, who turned the primary girl to swim the 100 backstroke (48.74) in underneath 49 seconds. Stanford’s Regan Smith, who received two silvers and a bronze on the Tokyo Olympics, received the 200 backstroke to assert a person NCAA title to associate along with her 800-yard free relay title.

Fittingly, Virginia ended the meet by breaking the American file within the 400 freestyle relay, ending in 3:06.91.

However for all the things that has occurred in Atlanta this week, the query of what occurs subsequent looms massive. When the NCAA introduced its new coverage on Jan. 19, it opened a can of worms that has but to be resolved. Till that date, the NCAA coverage governing eligibility for transgender ladies in ladies’s championships was that they wanted to have accomplished 12 months of testosterone suppression. However the coverage put in force on Jan. 19 deferred policy-making to every sport’s nationwide governing physique, efficient instantly.

For the needs of this swimming season, that put the concentrate on USA Swimming’s coverage, which the group up to date in February. That coverage, which notably didn’t apply to the NCAA championships, governs USA swimming members, designated elite occasions and people who need to be eligible for American data — which begins at ages 13-14.

The coverage requires transgender ladies to go earlier than an unbiased panel and show they don’t have a aggressive benefit over their cisgender friends (the factors for such proof was not enumerated), and to bear testosterone suppression for 36 months with their testosterone ranges underneath 5 nanomoles per liter.

The NCAA, nevertheless, didn’t apply these guidelines to the 2022 swimming championships, and it’s unclear how they’ll apply to swimming eligibility shifting ahead. However the questions and the anxiousness about how Thomas would carry out on a nationwide stage have been resolved. The outcomes have been blended.

“I am all about being an excellent sport,” Smith stated. “I do not need to ship dangerous vibes to anybody, that is not who I’m. I believe all the things occurring has been actually loopy however I simply hope issues get labored out sooner or later. And that everybody leaves the state of affairs in an excellent place.”

Thomas’ swimming profession is over. She is the one identified transgender girl competing in NCAA Division I athletics at this second. What occurs subsequent in the case of coverage for transgender athletes in collegiate sports activities is an open query.

Mentioned Thomas on Thursday after profitable the 500: “It means the world to be right here.”

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