The collegiate swimming world is “overwhelmingly” concerned about fairness in women’s sports, three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines said Friday.
Gaines discussed controversy surrounding transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and biological men in women’s sports during an interview with The Daily Wire at the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships in Atlanta, Georgia.
The transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer clocked in at 4:33:24 in the women’s 500 freestyle finals Thursday evening, finishing first ahead of the University of Virginia’s Emma Weyant, a freshman.
Thomas will compete in the women’s 200 freestyle Friday evening and the 100 freestyle on Saturday, and is slated to finish second in the 200 freestyle and tenth in the 100 freestyle.
“We’re in uncharted territory for sure,” said Gaines, an ESPN swimming analyst. “This is new.”
Night one at the @NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship. The 200 Medley Relay features a UVA team that smashed the American Record at ACCs. Excited to be with @RowdyGaines and @ebeisel34 all week. Our coverage starts at 6 on ESPN3. pic.twitter.com/cJSKEAZTok
— Bill Spaulding (@BillSpaulding) March 16, 2022
The three-time Olympic gold medalist said that he has discussed the present controversy with many members of the swimming world over the past few months — coaches, swimmers, officials, attendees at the NCAA — and many of them are concerned about biological men in women’s sports.
“I’m finding there’s a lot of terms that come up that, terms like the fairness issue and not a level playing field, hopeless, helpless feeling,” he said, adding that some people he has spoken with have articulated that they feel it is “a sad day for the sport.”
“But at the same time, I think most people don’t want to be distracted by what’s going on,” he continued. “They need to focus on — put the blinders on, so to speak, and kind of focus on their task because they can’t really do anything about what’s going on here. They’re just trying to go day by day and doing what they can do.”
“The overwhelming majority” of those whom he has spoken with are talking about fairness, he emphasized, noting, “It’s a fairness issue.”
Lia Thomas has “followed every rule and every protocol” set forward by officials, the Olympic swimmer insisted.
“You can’t blame Lia Thomas,” he said. “You can blame the decision, but she’s doing what she’s been given a right to do.”
“I don’t know who it is that makes those kind of decisions,” he continued. “It’s not an easy decision to make for anybody. None of us have ever experienced anything like this. So I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the decision makers on this as well as anybody else.”
It’s unlikely that the female swimmers would weigh in on present controversies during the actual NCAA events, he said, since they are so focused on their upcoming races.
“Now you may hear a lot next week,” he predicted. “But this week, you know, everybody’s got their nose to grindstone.”
“You have to understand, these kids swim six to 10 miles a day, six days a week,” he said. “Think about running six to 10 months, and you’re swimming six to 10 miles. And they’ve been doing it for eight months now, day in and day out, on top of going to school every day.”
“If it was me, total chaos could be going on around me, and I wouldn’t be paying attention to it because I worked too hard to get there,” he said.
Gaines pushed back on criticisms of female swimmers who do not speak out against biological males participating in their sports.
“It’s not the girls’ fault,” he said. “Their job is to swim here … their job is to perform at the highest level as a college athlete, as a student athlete. When did people tell them it was their job to speak up?”
As the father of four daughters and the grandfather to five grandchildren, Gaines said he is “sensitive to this issue” and feels for “both sides.” He described himself as a “dopey” onlooker who comments on sports on TV.
“My job is really just to talk about the race and analyze the races,” he said. “But at the same time, you know, I like to get a pulse of what people are feeling.”