Olympian who lost to Lia Thomas is ‘proud to support trans athletes’

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  • Penn swimmer Lia Thomas won a national title, making history for trans athletes in college sports.
  • Erica Sullivan, an Olympic silver medalist who placed third in the NCAA event, expressed her support for Thomas.
  • “All athletes – including transgender athletes – deserve to be respected and included,” Sullivan wrote.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer and new national champion Lia Thomas has found herself at the center of the American debate over the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

On Thursday, the 22-year-old senior beat two Olympic silver medalists to win the 500-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Many naysayers called the result unfair to the rest of the court due to Thomas’ perceived biological advantage in being assigned male at birth.

But a notable voice in the chorus of people supporting Thomas and other trans athletes belongs to Texas Longhorns rookie Erica Sullivan, who hit the wall after the controversial swimmer in Thursday night’s final.

Swimmer Lia Thomas on the podium after winning the 500 yard dash at the 2022 NCAA Championships.

Thomas (left) and Sullivan, wearing cowboy hats, step onto the podium after the 500-yard run at the 2022 NCAA Championships.

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

A day after finishing third behind Thomas and Virginia Cavaliers star Emma Weyant, Sullivan penned an op-ed for Newsweek, in which she explained “why I’m proud to support trans athletes like Lia Thomas.”

“All athletes – including transgender athletes – deserve to be respected and included, just like we are,” Sullivan wrote. “Throughout my life, swimming has taught me both in and out of the pool, and transgender athletes shouldn’t be left out of that opportunity.”

Sullivan — who stood on the 1,500-meter freestyle podium alongside swimming icon Katie Ledecky at the Tokyo Olympics — noted that as a member of the LGBTQ+ community itself, “I’m incredibly grateful that being gay has never stopped me from being able to participate in the sport I love.”

Sullivan (left) and Katie Ledecky celebrate their finishes in the 1500 meter freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.

Sullivan (left) and Katie Ledecky celebrate their finishes in the 1500 meter freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.

Rob Schumacher – USA TODAY Sports

She doesn’t want to see anyone being denied the many benefits of sports participation based on who they are or how they identify.

“Lia Thomas was unjustly targeted for this – for being who she is, a transgender woman,” Sullivan wrote. “Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get where she is and has followed all the rules and guidelines that have been placed on her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time.”

“And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in the sport, to be celebrated for her hard-earned success, not to be branded a cheater just because of who she is.” she added.

Sullivan went on to note that with many pressing crises emerging across the world, time needed to be spent finding solutions to serious issues, rather than debating the “fundamental rights of your fellow swimmer”. Simply put, “transgender athletes should not be denied equal rights with cisgender athletes.”

Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, swims for the University of Pennsylvania in an Ivy League swim meet against Harvard University in Cambridge


Getty/Joseph Prezioso

As far as she’s concerned, that’s the end of the debate, and claims that Thomas and other trans women pose a threat to women’s sport are baseless.

“As a woman in sport, I can tell you that I know the real threats to women’s sport: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources, and a lack of women in leadership,” Sullivan wrote. . “Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list.”

“Women’s sport is stronger when all women, including trans women, are protected from discrimination and free to be themselves,” she added.

Lia Thomas of the Pennsylvania Quakers after winning the 500 meter freestyle in a tri-meet against the Yale Bulldogs and the Dartmouth Big Green at Sheerr Pool on the University of Pennsylvania campus


Getty/Hunter Martin

Thomas has two additional events remaining on his schedule at the NCAA Championships. She will compete in Friday’s 200m freestyle event – ​​where she is the favorite – as well as Saturday’s 100m freestyle race. She won the Ivy League championships in both events, as well as the 500 meter freestyle.

Sullivan, meanwhile, only has one event left in her season. She’ll swim the 1,650-yard freestyle on Saturday — a race comparable in length to her Olympic medal.

Naomi C. Amerson