Lia Thomas is the first openly transgender athlete to become Division I national champion in any sport after the swimmer posted a program-record time.
The University of Pennsylvania student, believed to be 22, competed at the NCAA Championships and finished first in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:33.24.
Thomas, who competed on the university’s men’s team for three years before her transition in 2019, beat Virginia freshman Emma Weyant by 1.75 seconds.
Speaking in a rare post-race interview, an emotional Thomas insisted that she tried to “ignore” the controversies surrounding her involvement in women’s sports.
“It means the world to be here,” she said.
Thomas added: “I try to ignore it as much as I can. I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races. And just try to block out everything else.”
Penn’s Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 17, 2022
Thomas becomes the first known transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I championship in any sport.
Full story from @katie_barnes3: https://t.co/mYzU5uBDpS pic.twitter.com/zgmIEgKO5x
“It means the world to be here.”— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 18, 2022
Lia Thomas spoke about swimming in the NCAA women's championships. pic.twitter.com/aP0afVA0KE
Thomas, who has been under the spotlight after bursting onto the scenes in women’s swimming, was once again met with backlash after her championship win.
Former Good Morning Britain co-presenter Piers Morgan and Donald Trump Jr were among those to slam Thomas’ victory on Thursday night.
If you support this, you’re actively participating in the wilful destruction of women’s sport & women’s rights to fairness & equality. It’s shameful. https://t.co/nZHpOBr50Z— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 18, 2022
“If you support this, you’re actively participating in the wilful destruction of women’s sport [and] women’s rights to fairness [and] equality. It’s shameful,” Morgan tweeted.
Former US President Donald Trump’s son sent out in a now-deleted tweet: “Congrats bro!!! Lia Thomas picks up victory in 500 free national championship [sic].”
ESPN reports that Thomas, who turned down her requirements to be at the NCAA post-race press conference, was met with a “noticeably quiet” reception when her name was called while on the podium.
The UPenn student is expected to return to action on Friday morning for the 200-yard freestyle preliminary, with Thomas also set to compete in Saturday’s 100-yard freestyle.
Featured Image Credit: ESPN's SportsCenter/Twitter
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