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Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig compete in Ivy League competition amid eligibility debate


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Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig brought national attention to the Ivy League championships this week and are heading home as conference champions as debate rages over eligibility rules.

Thomas from Penn and Henig from Yale dominated the pool in their individual events.

Thomas had a bit of a slow start to the conference championships. She kept Penn narrowly ahead in the first run of the 800 freestyle relay on Wednesday. But the Quakers finished behind Princeton and Yale.

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Thomas competed in his first individual event on Thursday and won convincingly.

The senior got off to a slow start in the 500 freestyle and had to come back against Princeton’s Ellie Marquardt. But Thomas escaped halfway through. She finished in 4:37:32 and took first place, giving the Quakers 32 points for the total team standings.

Lia Thomas of Penn looks up at the board after winning the 500 yard freestyle final at the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University, February 17, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts . Thomas, who is changing to women’s, swims for Penn’s women’s team.
(Associated Press)

Thomas finished about seven seconds ahead of teammate Catherine Buroker to take the win and set a record at Harvard University’s Blodgett Pool.

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Thomas’ records were not over.

On Friday night, Thomas set a record in the 200-yard freestyle competition en route to another conference title. She finished in first place with a mark of 1:43.12, setting a record for the event and at Blodgett Pool.

Henig didn’t leave the pool empty-handed on Thursday night, either.

Henig won the Ivy League championship in the 50 freestyle. Henig, who switches from feminine to masculine and uses masculine pronouns, beat Princeton’s Nikki Venema with a time of 21.93.

On Friday, Henig finished third in the 100-yard butterfly, clocking 52.82. Venema was first at 52.42 and Harvard’s Abigail Carr posted a 52.69.

Not everyone was happy that Thomas was eligible to compete.

ESPN Plus commentator Alex Vispoli said Thursday that he and fellow announcer Adam Giardino spoke to Penn coach Mike Schnur and relayed the coach’s thoughts during the Thomas 500 free event.

“He says after what she’s been through, he calls her ‘the bravest kid he’s ever met. All the attention that’s been given to her says she has incredible courage,” Vispoli said, relaying Schnur’s message.

“And he’s known Lia for a long time. And the one thing that’s always shone through about Lia is her love of swimming and how much she loves the sport. And that should be one of the main things to talk about. to hold back, and the love that someone has for a sport for it to be so big in this sport should definitely be appreciated.”

PENN’S LIA THOMAS WINS IVY LEAGUE 500 FREE CHAMPIONSHIP

Giardino added: “And it’s a sport, swimming, that you can really put to work and see the results. You can put your head down sometimes. I think a lot of us during the pandemic, I think we We’ve found things that are stress relievers. Swimming is definitely something she’s taken up and it’s something that, above all else, she’s incredibly good at.

Thomas also had supporters at the pool.

An “8 Against Hate” sign was displayed above the pool between flags representing each of the Ivy League member schools, and several athletes were seen wearing shirts with the same slogan.

Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig compete in Ivy League competition amid eligibility debate

Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania reacts during the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University.
(USA Today Sports)

Raging debate

A debate raged over whether it was right for Thomas to compete as a transgender woman against biological women. During the season, Thomas dominated the pool and was thrust into the national spotlight after her performance at the Zippy Invitational.

Last month, the debate finally reached the doors of the NCAA. The college athletics governing body announced its updated transgender participation policy, saying eligibility would be determined on a sport-by-sport basis. If there is no national governing body for the sport, NCAA sport will follow the policy of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The NCAA said its policy will take effect in March, beginning with the Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, March 16-19.

Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig compete in Ivy League competition amid eligibility debate

Lia Thomas hits her teammate Catherine Buroker before the women’s 500 meter freestyle final during the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University.
(USA Today Sports)

On Feb. 1, USA Swimming updated its policy requiring transgender athletes competing at an elite level to have low levels of testosterone — half of what Thomas was allowed to compete with — for at least 36 months before racing. be eligible. Thomas’ future in the pool was immediately uncertain.

However, the NCAA said last week that the Administrative Subcommittee of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CMAS) had decided that it would not ultimately change its testosterone guidelines, stating that “the Implementing additional changes at this point could have unfair effects and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes who intend to compete in the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships in 2022.”

The decision paved the way for Thomas to compete in the NCAA Championships.

“Many difficulties”

Thomas has only spoken publicly once, on the SwimSwam podcast in December. She said at the time she was beginning to find some kind of peace after feeling “trapped” in a man’s body.

“I feel confident and good in my swimming and in all of my personal relationships, and the transition has allowed me to be more confident in all of those areas of my life where I was struggling a lot before I came out,” he said. she stated.

YALE TRANSGENDER SWIMMER ISZAC HENIG WINS IVY LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 50 FREE

Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig compete in Ivy League competition amid eligibility debate

Iszac Henig reacts after winning the 50-yard freestyle final at the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University on February 17, 2022.
(Paul Rutherford – USA TODAY Sports)

Henig told The Associated Press before the NCAA’s updated transgender participation policy was announced that constant changes were not necessary.

“At all levels, from elementary to college, trans athletes have been participating for years, and wildly negative predictions about what will happen to the sport have already been proven wrong,” Henig said. “In every sport, at every level, there is a wide range of athletic abilities. Trans athletes are no different and don’t change that.”

Henig is from California and has been competing for Yale since 2018.

Henig had his breasts removed but wrote in a New York Times column in June that he was not yet taking hormones because he wanted to compete in the pool.

“As a student-athlete, coming out as trans puts me in a weird position,” Henig wrote. “I could start hormones to align more with myself, or wait, transition socially and continue to compete on a women’s swim team. I opted for the latter.

Transgender swimmers Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig compete in Ivy League competition amid eligibility debate

Lia Thomas of Penn waits to compete in a qualifying round of the 500-yard freestyle event at the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University on February 17, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts .
(Associated Press)

“I value my contributions to the team and I recognize that my childhood does not depend on whether there is more or less testosterone in my veins. At least, that is what I will try to remember when I put on the women’s swimsuit for the competition. and I remember a me that I no longer feel attached to.”

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The Ivy League championships wrap up Saturday with six swimming events on the schedule – 1650 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly and 400 freestyle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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