Penn's Lia Thomas ties for fifth in 200-yard freestyle final at NCAA swimming championships

ATLANTA -- One day after becoming a national champion, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas tied for fifth place in Friday's 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA swimming championships at McAuley Aquatic Center.

Stanford junior and Canadian Olympian Taylor Ruck claimed the title, out-touching Cal senior Isabel Ivey at the wall in 1 minute, 41.12 seconds to set a McAuley Aquatic Center record. It was the second time a pool record was set in the 200 freestyle at the NCAA championships. Ruck's time was 2.02 seconds off Missy Franklin's NCAA record of 1:39.10 set in 2015.

"I'm so glad to have my teammates behind me," Ruck said in a post-race interview with Elizabeth Beisel on ESPN. "This whole season has just been a blast being back. I'm so grateful to have them here."

On Thursday, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship when she won the 500 freestyle.

Ruck, Thomas, and Ivey were the top three seeds in Friday's 200 free final after their times in their qualifying heats were separated by 0.35 seconds. In the final, Ruck quickly surged into the lead, and Thomas lagged well behind in seventh place after the first 50. Thomas never threatened for the lead as Ruck and Ivey scrapped down the stretch. Thomas made up some ground in the final 100 yards, but finished in 1:43.40, more than a second slower than her time in prelims.

Ruck reached over the lane line to shake hands with Thomas before swimming over to Ivey and embracing her.

"There's been chatter about Lia being here, but I just try to zone everything out," Ruck said. "I was excited to be able to race someone who goes so fast."

Entering Friday's final, Ivey's 1:41.35 was the fastest time in the event and also the McAuley pool record. She set the mark on Wednesday night in the 800 freestyle relay (the NCAA counts leadoff legs of relays as official times). Thomas had previously held the fastest time since December with the 1:41.93 she swam at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Thomas, a fifth-year senior, is scheduled to return to the pool on Saturday morning for her final event, the 100 free. Unlike in the 200 and 500, Thomas is not considered among the favorites in the 100. She has the 10th-fastest time in the country -- a time she set in winning the Ivy League title last month.

Thomas' victory in the 500 free on Thursday came amid protests outside of Georgia Tech's McAuley Aquatic Center, and noticeable quiet from the otherwise rowdy crowd inside of it. Few members of the swimming community have gone on the record with their opinions about Thomas and the inclusion of transgender women in women's sports, but that ice has begun to thaw throughout the championship meet.

"I put myself in the shoes of Lia's parents," Sophia Ruck, Taylor's mother, said to ESPN before the 200 freestyle. "And I have nothing but empathy. And if that's what Lia needs to do to live her best life, that's up to Lia."

Jennifer Reese, the mother of UCLA swimmer Claire Grover, said to ESPN: "I've always felt that Lia Thomas and every swimmer should be shown the respect they're due. That being said, there are clear differences. Being treated that way is one thing, but competing is different. Biological females and biological males are two different people. And I think that is important. It makes me sad. I think everything that women have fought for for so long is getting eroded."

In other action on Friday, NC State junior Katharine Berkoff set an NCAA and American record in the 100 backstroke, finishing in 48.74. The previous NCAA record of 49.18 was held by Beata Nelson, and the previous American record of 49.16 was held by Regan Smith, a Stanford freshman who finished third on Friday. In the 400 medley relay, the University of Virginia tied its own American and NCAA record of 3:22.34. The same relay team hit the same mark a month earlier at the ACC championships.

"Going into any race, we're doing it for more than just ourselves," Virginia senior Alexis Wenger said. "As individual as swimming can be, we all know that no one is trying to win gold or go best time just because they want to. They want to do it for more than just themselves."

The Cavaliers have dominated the first three days of competition, leading the field with 386.5 points. Virginia is looking to defend its 2021 championship, the first in program history. Stanford, which won back-to-back-to-back titles in 2017-2019, is in second place with 276 points, and Texas is in third with 257.

ESPN's John Barr contributed to this report.