Former Penn swimmer Lia Thomas, who was the subject of a media tempest this year after switching to the women’s squad after three years on the men’s team, says she wants to compete in the Olympics.
“I knew there would be scrutiny against me if I competed as a woman. I was prepared for that but I also don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself and do the sport I love,” she said during an interview.
Thomas, 23, addressed concerns that she had a physical advantage over other female swimmers despite undergoing a year of hormone therapy.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into a race and how well you do and the biggest change for me is that I’m happy and sophomore year, when I had my best times competing with the men, I was miserable. So having that be lifted is incredibly relieving and allows me to put my all into training and racing,” said Thomas.
“Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”
She argued that cisgender female athletes also had different body types and asked if they too should be disqualified over what could be considered an advantage.
“I’m not a medical expert, but there’s a lot of variation among cis female athletes,” said Thomas. “There are cis women who are very tall and very muscular and have more testosterone than another cis woman, and should that then also disqualify them?”
In March, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national title when she won the 500 free final by just over a second against Olympic medalist and Virginia standout Emma Weyant, setting a program record in the process.
She also competed in two other events, placing fifth in the 200-meter freestyle and dead last in the 100-meter freestyle.
Members of the Penn women’s swimming team spoke out anonymously against Thomas’ involvement, claiming that it jeopardized the sport’s credibility, but they also expressed support for her choice to transition.