A young woman who competed against a biologically male track runner in college weighed in on controversy over transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, saying that allowing males in female competitions is a “disservice” to “all women in sports.”
Linnea Saltz won the 800 meter track race in the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championship in 2019. As she headed into her senior year of college, she was informed that a biologically male athlete who formerly ran on the University of Montana men’s track team, had taken a red shirt year — and that athlete would now be competing against her as a woman.
The former track athlete joined protestors from the “Save Women’s Sports” organization outside the NCAA Division I Championship meet in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday as transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male, crushed female competitors in the 500 freestyle.
Saltz, who was hoping to win the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championship and potentially pursue an All-American track title, told The Daily Wire that she was incredibly discouraged to be told by her coaches that she would have to face a biological male, who goes by the name June Eastwood.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I’m so excited to go and defend my title again, but am I not going to have that opportunity anymore? Because now a man who has competed and run ten seconds faster than me in the eight hundred, I’m now going to have to defend my title against somebody that already possesses this physiological biological advantage over me?'”
“It was just really disappointing, and it was hard for me to understand why the NCAA would allow something like that to happen,” she said.
Saltz said that she believes many of the people on her team and within the conference felt that they were not being heard and they did not have an opportunity to race on a level playing field.
“That’s why I come out to things like this is because I don’t want women to feel the way that I did,” she said, gesturing around her at small groups of protestors outside the NCAA women’s championships. “I don’t want women to feel the way that my teammates did. It’s a disservice honestly to all women in sports.”
Saltz told The Daily Wire that she observed a swimmer crying on Thursday.
Virginia Tech swimmer competing in this year’s NCAA championship details how her teammate was brought to tears after her place in the finals was taken by Lia Thomas: pic.twitter.com/mow56mVp1W
— Sav (@RapidFire_Pod) March 17, 2022
“One of our women over here was like, ‘Why don’t you speak out about it,'” Saltz said. “And they said, ‘Well, I’m scared. I can’t be walking around wearing my university’s brand and talking about this.'”
Saltz said she pulled aside the girls and told them, “Well, I did.”
“I used to compete at Southern Utah University,” the former track athlete said that she told the students. “I went and spoke with my president. I spoke with the athletic director I spoke with as EU counsel, and I told them, ‘Listen, whether you believe me or not, or whether you agree with my opinion or not, I’m going forward with this. Then I’m going towards the NCAA and I don’t know if you’re going to be on my side or not, but I just want you to know what I’m doing.'”
Saltz said that she was fully supported by her university, emphasizing that she felt lucky to be at a university that was completely on her side.
“I know that I may not be an athlete now, but I did come out and advocate for this issue then, and people are just as hateful to me now as they were back then,” she said she told the swimmers. “It’s never going to be different. And so I may be receiving a lot of hate…I’ve had athletes that I’ve competed against a multitude of times, say really hateful, hurtful things towards me because of my opinions.”
Critics of those who support women’s sports often insist they would never tear down other women, Saltz said.
“But that’s exactly what they’re doing to me when I’m trying to speak on behalf of women athletes,” she added.
Saltz raced her transgender competitor at the Big Sky indoor conference championship in February 2020, right before the coronavirus pandemic began. The athlete did not race Saltz in the 800-meter competition, which Saltz won.
But as Saltz and her teammates competed against the transgender athlete in a relay race, she overheard the University of Montana coach telling Eastwood to slow down.
“That was the sticking point for me,” she said. “And that honestly made me and all of my advocacy efforts feel worth it because it just was so clear to me that my coach would never tell me to slow down.”
“No coach would tell you to slow down,” she added, suggesting that the University of Montana coach told the transgender athlete to slow down in order to not crush competitors by too much. “The whole point of track and field is you completely exhaust yourself on the track we call emptying the tank. We want everything to be depleted by the time you cross the finish line. So you would never tell your athlete to slow down. You would tell them to push it to their ultimate limits.”