A new controversy shook the highly competitive American collegiate sports community on Friday, the day after transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ historic victory at the varsity swimming championships.
In Atlanta (Georgia), Lia Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle final (approximately 457 meters) in the colors of the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday evening.
A student born as a male first trans swimmer to win the university title by finishing second in the final 4 minutes 33 seconds 24, more than one and a half seconds ahead of Emma Weyant, 4 minutes 34 seconds 99. Erica Sullivan, silver medalist in the 1,500 meters 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics, placed third in 4 minutes 35 seconds 92.
Lia Thomas, who previously competed as a man Divided public opinion in the USA.
a physiological advantage
Among its detractors, it is believed to have an unfair physiological advantage. On the part of her supporters, it is believed that she should be allowed to compete freely as a woman.
A photo released on Friday is meaningful and is shaking social networks across Europe: Thomas holding his trophy in his arms, a wary smile, straight on the first rung of the podium; A few yards away, the second Weyant, the third Sullivan, and the fourth Brooke Forde gathered together, and at the third step everyone smiled and protested.
By the pools of the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, the contrast between the polite applause for Thomas on Thursday and the frenzied crowd for his three followers was striking.
“I try to ignore it as much as possible,” replied the winner, “making him happy to be here and trying to give the best (of himself) in the competition.” He even had the best time of the series with a 4min 33s 82 time and is one of the 200-yard favorites on Friday.
Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old student, won the Ivy League women’s 500-yard freestyle on February 18 in a competition attended by eight of the most prestigious American universities including Harvard, Yale, and Cornell.
Not without controversy in this very competitive environment in the United States, the university had received the green light from sports officials. In February, the swimming governing body in the United States, Swimming USA, announced new guidelines that provide a tighter threshold for athletes’ testosterone levels – which was widely believed to be more difficult to participate. Lia Thomas in major competitions. .
But the NCAA, which governs college sports, said at the time it would not enforce these stricter rules and would allow Thomas to compete in Atlanta since March 16.
At the beginning of the year, Lia Thomas was challenged at the university club. Some of his athletes condemned it by letter. advantages assumed to depend on morphology and called for tougher rules for trans athletes.
At the opposite camp, 300 active and retired swimmers took a position in Thomas’ favor, including Sullivan, who finished third on Thursday.
No scientific consensus
The debate began at the end of 2021 after the very good results of Lia Thomas, who entered the women’s category this season after competing in the men’s category. This raises the question of the place of these athletes between the concern for inclusivity and the preservation of equity in sport. After a transgender athlete’s first participation in the Tokyo Olympics in weightlifting, this is a headache for sports establishments.
In November, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) returned the ball to every sport, citing a lack of “scientific consensus on the role of testosterone in performance in all sports.” The debate is also political in the US. Several conservative states have recently passed laws that prevent young transgender girls from playing women’s sports at school. “We will ban men from participating in women’s pageants,” former Republican President Donald Trump said at a meeting in Arizona on January 15.