ATLANTA — The NCAA Women’s Swimming Championship wrapped up Saturday evening, accentuated by rumblings in the deep over fairness in women’s sports and the inclusion of a biologically male swimmer in female races.
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas competed Saturday evening in the 100 freestyle final, finishing in 8th place with a time of 48.18 seconds.
The transgender athlete, who won the 500 freestyle on Thursday evening and tied for fifth in the 200 freestyle Friday evening, has drawn nationwide backlash by swimming and competing on a women’s team after racing with men for three years.
Tension was palpable in the stands as Thomas was announced the winner of the 500 freestyle — and when Thomas was introduced ahead of the 200 freestyle.
Some in the crowd booed, some clapped, some cheered, some yelled angrily. Activists from “Save Women’s Sports” hung a banner protesting Thomas from the railings in the stands.
“I’m not a vet but I know what a dog is.”
A clash of views as Lis Thomas races ahead at the NCAA 500 freestyle prelims. pic.twitter.com/X9J5yzmozd
— Madeleine Kearns (@madeleinekearns) March 17, 2022
When attendees clapped and cheered for Thomas at Saturday morning’s preliminary races, the athlete turned a smiling face up to the crowd and briefly waved.
“It means the world to be here … I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas told ESPN after winning the 500 freestyle. “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.”
Thomas declined to attend the Thursday evening post-race press conference, according to ESPN, where the transgender swimmer would likely have been pressed about backlash to a biological male in women’s sports.
Thomas’ presence was noticeable on the pool deck — aside from the fact that Thomas stands taller than many of the swimmers, the athlete also is broad shouldered and clearly has male anatomy.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, now an ESPN analyst broadcasting at the NCAAs, confirmed to The Daily Wire on Friday afternoon that the collegiate swimming world is “overwhelmingly” concerned about fairness 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.”
Multiple parents with whom The Daily Wire spoke confirmed this sentiment, describing anxious mothers, fathers, coaches, and swimmers who fear publicly discussing the subject lest they face societal repercussions in a quick-to-cancel culture.
The female athletes themselves were hesitant or unwilling to share how they felt with The Daily Wire. Many of them said they were not supposed to talk to media during the championships.
Should the girls themselves speak out? Felipe worries that they might become victims of society's savage cancel culture.
"I understand how the kids are feeling. I understand how the coaches are feeling. This has to come down on the NCAA.” pic.twitter.com/9g7M6aTSxs
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) March 19, 2022
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” said the father of a swimmer from Virginia. “These young ladies have worked too hard to be treated like that.”
The Virginia dad said that it has been “incredibly obvious” from where he has been sitting in the stands that parents “don’t appear to be supportive of Lia Thomas.”
“It happened several times yesterday when he finished, when he touched the wall and finished,” the father explained. “Nobody clapped, really. When the second place person came in, the place exploded.”
Felipe Delgado, the father of a sophomore swimmer competing at the championships against Lia Thomas, indicated that the NCAA is to blame for failing to establish proper parameters.
“Had they established rules that prohibited [Thomas] from being here, she wouldn’t be here,” Delgado said in a Friday evening interview.
“I am a believer that there is a gatekeeper,” he said. “And when that gatekeeper allows somebody to come in who potentially shouldn’t be invited to the party, I think ultimately the brunt of the blame, if there is blame to be had, would fall on that person.”
The NCAA has not responded to requests for comment from The Daily Wire.