Critics accuse trans swimming star Lia Thomas of having an unfair advantage. The data tells a different story

On March 17th, Lia Thomas, an openly transgender athlete, made history by becoming the first person to win America’s top university sports trophy in the women’s 500-yard freestyle race.

Ms. Thomas emerged victorious in the ultimate contest of the NCAA swimming championship, clinching the division one championship as a collegiate athlete.

However, the American conservative side, along with being a focal point for extensive discussions regarding transgender women in sports, has prominently contributed to Ms. Thomas’ achievements.

Last week at the NCAA championship, she faced backlash from protesters, competitors, activists, politicians, sports stars, and even some parents of her teammates. They argued that her previous experience living as a man gives her an unfair advantage in women’s races and questioned her right to compete based on her gender.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a proclamation on Tuesday declaring Emma Weyant as the rightful winner of the 500-yard runner-up in women’s college and high school sports. This comes after the approval of legislation last year that banned transgender women from participating in women’s sports.

The Independent has crunched the numbers and found little evidence to suggest that women’s sports pose any threat. However, there has been scant detail about how Ms. Thomas’s performance actually compares to other women at her level.

During the summer of 2018, Lia Catherine Thomas revealed her true self to her family and initiated her swimming journey at the tender age of five. As the new year commenced in 2020, she embraced her new identity and started using the pronoun “she.”

In this year’s interview with Illustrated Sports, she described it as a sort of rebirth, a way of fully embracing and experiencing who I am and the connections I have in my life, for the first time.

“Medical” transformation, instead of social transformation (like modifying one’s attire), is typically the initial phase in what is referred to as gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This therapy entails consuming estrogen or testosterone supplements to align a transgender individual’s hormone levels with those of a cisgender (or non-transgender) individual. She commenced HRT in May 2019.

Although there is variation within each sex, typically women and men naturally have different hormone balances, which is why male athletes tend to perform at higher levels compared to female athletes. These hormones cause our bodies to develop in different ways, leading to the growth that enables male athletes to perform at higher levels than female athletes.

However, during adulthood, the capacity of our bodies to respond to new hormones caused by HRT can still cause radical changes to a person’s secondary sex characteristics.

For trans women, the process of shifting their body fat into a more hourglass shape through sports, most relevantly focusing on mass and strength muscle, entails changes to their emotions, thinning of body hair, and growth of breasts.

Once trans women have undergone hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a specific duration and their testosterone levels fall below certain thresholds, both the NCAA and the Olympics permit them to participate in women’s events. Trans men, on the other hand, follow distinct regulations since their physical capabilities prior to HRT resemble those of cisgender women, and they generally experience an increase in strength and muscle mass due to HRT.

Currently, women who are transgender and have undergone hormone replacement therapy (HRT) do not dominate professional sports, and there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the inclusion of mixed gender categories. Opponents of including transgender women in women’s sports argue that the natural advantages gained from testosterone are not erased by these changes.

Ms. Thomas skipped the 2020-21 swimming season as she has been on HRT for nearly three years now, losing an inch in height and strength, making it impossible to match her performance.

So how is she performing as a swimmer today?

Let’s take a first look at Ms. Thomas’s record in the NCAA. These are the easiest results to compare and access, as athletes and multiple years across various competitions have achieved some of her fastest times.

All statistics in this article are for “short course yards” races, indicating they were completed in a 25-yard pool.

Ms Thomas emerged victorious in the 500 yard freestyle event for women, completing it in a remarkable time of 4 minutes and 33.24 seconds. In the 200 yard race, she secured the fifth position with a timing of 1 minute and 43.40 seconds, while in the 100 yard race, she finished eighth with a time of 48.40 seconds.

Among them were not Thomas’s instances, but shattered records NCAA all-time 27 witnessed competition overall the. They were not record-breaking, but these results were impressive.

The University of Virginia (UVA) has now broken the fastest times in the history of college swimming in the 50-yard freestyle event, with an impressive 18 record-breaking swims by Kate Douglass. Additionally, Douglass has also shattered records in the 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard breaststroke, and 50-yard freestyle events.

“According to Swimming World, no swimmer in NCAA women’s history has ever won a single meet involving the breaststroke, let alone three records in three different strokes. However, there have been instances where a single meet resulted in three records and three titles, showcasing the prowess of several dominant swimmers. Kate Douglass has emerged as a dominant force in the sport, and her dominance is evident.”

Other records were shattered by various events in UVA’s medley teams, along with the outstanding performances of UVA’s Alex Walsh and North Carolina State University’s Katherine Berkoff.

According to an Independent search of women’s records listed by USA Swimming, the US’ national governing body for the sport, Ms. Thomas’s 500 yard time, which was approximately nine seconds slower than Katie Ledecky’s record in 2017, ranks her as the 15th fastest college swimmer.

How do these periods compare to other females in the highest positions of swimming in American colleges?

Because of the pandemic, all NCAA championships were called off during that year, thereby excluding 2020. The Independent gathered a compilation of swim timings for the top 8 finishers in the NCAA women’s events for the last six years of competition.

Today, in the 200-yard race, Missy Franklin’s record is standing still, while in the 500-yard race, Katie Ledecky’s record of 24.06 seconds goes far back enough to cover it. This data includes only the absolute best college swimmers in these events, among other words.

Ms. Thomas’s time in the 500 yards field is the eighth fastest out of 56, making it notable because there are only seven other notable events in the dataset.

According to The Independent’s data, she ranks 55th out of 56 participants in the 100 yard race, while her ranking in the 200 yard race is the 31st out of 5.

Her 200 yard time of 1m 43.24s, when compared to 1m 42.85, falls slightly below the average (47.06s), whereas her 100 yard time of 48.18s exceeds the average (4m 36.07s). Additionally, her 500 yard time of 4m 33.24 is also slightly higher than the average (4m 36.07s).

The average time for men is more than 20 seconds below that of women in high-level events in Thomas Ms, where both men and women have competed from 2015 to 2021. The Independent also examined the numbers for the men’s 500-yard race.

Ms Thomas’ participation has been critiqued by some due to her improved overall position after transitioning into the women’s category, as they argue that her previous record competing in men’s races may have played a role.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer and advocate for women’s sports, stated that Ms. Thomas was “never among those exceptional athletes.” Meanwhile, the editor of Swimming World mentioned that Ms. Thomas achieved a ranking of 554th in the men’s 200 yard freestyle, 65th in the 500 yard freestyle, and 32nd in the 1650 yard freestyle.

As per Swimcloud, while she did not participate in any of those events at this year’s NCAA championship, Ms. Thomas excelled in the 1,000 yard and 1,650 yard freestyle races for men. This is likely due to the impact of HRT on her long-distance capabilities. However, it is important to consider that these comparisons may not be equitable.

Kyle Sockwell, a former NCAA swimmer, helped draw attention to one of the competitors at the full championship competition by impersonating Ms. NCAA on a fake Twitter account. It was noted that she did not reduce her training or rest just before the race in order to maximize performance, meaning she did not follow a tapering strategy. Additionally, it was mentioned that she was not given enough time to compete in the 200-yard freestyle event.

According to a search of USA Swimming records, in the last season where Ms. Thomas competed in men’s events, she achieved a ninth-place finish across the entire country in the 1,000-yard freestyle and 29th place in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

Mr. Sockwell states, “Being in the countryside and on the verge of qualifying for the NCAAs, Lia would have ranked in the top 30-34 in the 1650 yard event.” Lia Thomas demonstrated her exceptional swimming skills and competitiveness while being a member of the men’s team at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a span of a few years, it is highly unusual for an athlete to go from being ranked 1st to 11th. However, Lia was an exceptional athlete when she competed on the men’s team and was considered a standout athlete. Lia is now reportedly an advisor and friend to Schuyler Bailar, who is the first openly transgender swimmer in the men’s NCAA Division I.

Ms. Hogshead-Makar, the time for the 1,650 yards was 7.2 percent lower, her time for the 1,000 yards was 7.5 percent lower, and her fastest time in the 500 yards was 5.6 percent lower compared to before the transition. The comparison of Ms. Thomas’s times before hormone replacement therapy and her current times also highlighted the discrepancy.

The distinction in NCAA men and women’s records differs by distance: 11.2 percent for the 200 yards, 7.2 percent for the 500 yards, and 6 percent for the 1,650 yards. That is lower than the typical 10 to 11 percent disparity Ms Hogshead-Makar claims is typically observed between men’s and women’s races. Nevertheless, as per the LGBT sports news site OutSport.

From that time onwards, any advancements in her skill or outlook would not be evident and thus, they originate from a previous stage in her development as a swimmer. If she had never initiated hormone replacement therapy, it is also conceivable to speculate on how swiftly she would swim if Ms. Thomas’ previous records do not accurately depict her abilities.

“Mr Sockwell cautions, ‘It’s completely novel.’ “Equally competitive, and has become highly competitive, a male swimmer has transitioned to female.” Our sole genuine example is when a male swimmer who was competitive has transitioned to female.”

Since 2004, no trans women participating in the women’s Olympics have achieved a medal, even though these figures appear to be mostly consistent with those of trans athletes worldwide.

However, advocates for transgender individuals argue that even if women were to compete against transgender women, it would not justify excluding them from women’s events, as it would not necessarily prove that they have an unfair advantage. Only the numbers can tell us so much.

It would indeed be odd to argue that transgender women should exclusively participate in women’s sports, as long as they do not achieve any victories.

“Wow, observe the extent to which Katie Ledecky emerges victorious, she’s invincible, that’s astonishing!” They express. “No one asserts that a cisgender woman is permitted to participate solely because she ‘didn’t dominate.’ This contention should never have to be presented,” conveyed Mr Bailar via Instagram this week.

This is not to prove that trans women athletes can’t be great athletes or even win or dominate. It is even to prove that people who are lying in order to turn you against trans women athletes are not even athletes.

Hormone therapy has been undergone by Caster Semenya, an intersex woman who was barred from participating in the Olympics. It has been claimed that she secretly claims baselessly that she is subject to the unusual biological characteristics often found in exceptional athletes, as noted by Mr. Bailar in a blog post.

As reported by the Washington Post, the most towering athlete in 2022 measures 6ft 9in, while the typical stature of a leading female basketball player in the United States stands at approximately 6ft. Furthermore, this height surpasses the average measurement for an American woman, which is 5ft 4in, as well as the average height for a man, which is 5ft 9in.

Katie Ledecky, the Olympic champion swimmer, described Ryan Lochte as a guy who swims like her. She is so strong in the water – both mentally and in her stroke. I’ve never seen a female swimmer like her.

Advocates of transgender rights argue that women who are transgender, especially when participating in top-level competitions, should be treated differently due to the natural variations in their bodily hormones that are already required to regulate their play and stay.

That is a query that statistics alone cannot respond to.

Ms Thomas expressed her disapproval of the attacks on her accomplishments, affirming that “transgender females do not present a threat to women’s sports.”

Ms. Thomas stated in an interview on Good Morning America with ABC on May 31st that she hopes to compete in the Olympic trials.

Responding to allegations of having an unjust edge, the swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania confidently stated, “I am not reliant on anyone’s consent to express my true self.”

She noticed that specific cisgender women are taller, have larger feet and hands, and also display elevated levels of testosterone in comparison to other swimmers.

“You can’t go halfway and say ‘I endorse trans individuals but only up to a specific extent’,” she informed ABC.

If you don’t know, she mentioned, “If you support transgender women and if you can say something like that, it means that they have met all the requirements of the NCAA.”

“According to Ms Thomas, transgender women do not pose a danger to women’s athletics.”

There are many factors that contribute to how well you perform in a race and go into training. It is the biggest change for me that I am now able to do all my racing and training, which is incredibly relieving and lifts the “miserable” feeling I had when I was competing in my sophomore year. I am happy that my best times were during that year.

Ms Thomas informed Good Morning America that incorporating a transition for a competitive edge is not a consideration in our decision-making process. “Individuals who identify as transgender do not undergo a transition solely for the purpose of participating in athletics. We undergo a transition to attain happiness, authenticity, and to embrace our true selves.”

Thomas said that Ms. Thomas wasn’t sure she would be allowed to compete as a woman, but she was willing to end her swimming career to make the transition.

She mentioned that she became a less speedy swimmer after commencing hormone replacement therapy.

The divergence is seen immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys, Mayo Clinic doctor Michael Joyner told The New York Times.

“There are striking disparities in performances,” he remarked.

“Sport has social dimensions, but its foundation lies in physiology and biology,” Dr. Joyner stated. “Testosterone is the dominant force.”

Good Morning America reported that the main focus is the impact of exercise training and skeletal muscle on bone density, as well as foot, hand, and body size.

According to him, if hormone replacement therapy is not enough, a period of evidence ranging from one to four years might be recommended.

Ms Thomas replied. Should that also make them ineligible? There are cisgender women who are tall, strong, and have higher levels of testosterone. There is a significant amount of diversity among cisgender female athletes, but I am not an expert in the medical field.

She expressed her desire to see it through to ABC. It has been a longstanding aspiration of mine to participate in Olympic trials for swimming.