CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas made her Ivy League championships debut on Wednesday night, leading off for the Quakers in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Thomas finished her leg in first place, 0.15 seconds ahead of Yale's Iszac Henig, but Penn finished third behind Harvard and Yale. Both Thomas and Henig are transgender. Thomas is a transgender woman, and Henig is a transgender man.
Thomas enters the Ivy League championships as the top seed in the 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events. She posted some of the best times in the country in all three events at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, in December.
Thomas' success has trained the spotlight on transgender athletes, garnering both praise and criticism. Several of Thomas' teammates have spoken out anonymously, both in support of Thomas and criticizing her inclusion on the women's team. On Feb. 10, more than 300 members of the swimming community -- including representatives of each of the Power 5 conferences, five of Thomas' current teammates and Tokyo silver medalist Erica Sullivan -- signed an open letter published by Athlete Ally supporting Thomas. The previous week, an unsigned letter was sent by three-time swimming Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar on behalf of 16 Penn swimmers and their families asking the Ivy League not to advocate for Thomas' inclusion.
The rules governing transgender athletes' participation on the collegiate level have been murky since Jan. 19, when the NCAA announced a policy change. Revising its 2010 policy that applied to all sports, the NCAA opted to adopt each sport's national governing body policy, allowing for varying policies by sport. Though USA Swimming announced a new policy for transgender athletes on Feb. 1, the NCAA announced last week that it would not be using that policy for next month's women's swimming and diving championships at Georgia Tech.
Instead, athletes who had been in compliance with the 2010 policy need only to demonstrate a testosterone serum level below the "maximum allowable limit" for that sport within four weeks of the championship. The limit for women's swimming had been set at 10 nanomoles per liter, the same threshold used by previous Olympic rules but above the threshold in the new USA Swimming policy.
Thomas is slated to swim in three individual freestyle events this week: the 500-yard (Thursday), 200-yard (Friday), and either the 100-yard (Saturday) or 1,650-yard (Saturday). She has locked in an automatic bid for the NCAA championships in the 200-yard and 500-yard events, and her top 1,650-yard time puts her in contention for selection in that event as well. Thomas' best time in the 100-yard ranks outside the top 100.
Harvard leads the Ivy championships, which were canceled last year due to COVID-19, after Day 1. Princeton, Yale and Penn round out the top four.