On Thursday, Sports Illustrated published an exclusive interview with William “Lia” Thomas, the biological male swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania competing on the women’s swim team. As Townhall has covered, Thomas has been at the center of controversy this season for winning races and breaking records competing against biological women. Thomas previously competed as a swimmer at UPenn for three years on the men’s team.
“In her first year swimming for the Penn women’s team after three seasons competing against men, Thomas throttled her competition,” SI writer Robert Sanchez wrote. “She set pool, school and Ivy League records en route to becoming the nation’s most powerful female collegiate swimmer.”
Sanchez explained that at the upcoming NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships this month, Thomas may break “longstanding collegiate records held by Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin, two of the most beloved American Olympians of this century.”
Additionally, Sanchez noted the UPenn women’s swim team has become “bitterly divided” over Thomas. As Townhall has been following, several reports have emerged in recent months with female swimmers on the UPenn women’s team coming forward anonymously to outlets such as The Washington Examiner, Fox News, and Daily Mail to express their frustrations about Thomas competing against biological women. Matt covered last month how an anonymous female UPenn swimmer said in an interview that Thomas makes the locker room “awkward” because “Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women.”
However, in SI’s interview, Thomas said “I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team” and that “I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer.” Sanchez wrote that “she’s not thinking about wins or records, she [Thomas] insists.”
In addition, Thomas wanted to know what it was like to “look up at a timing board and see the name Lia Thomas next to the names of other women. What it meant to her to stand on a podium with other women and be counted as an equal.”
Sanchez’s claims are contrary to what Thomas’ teammates have stated in interviews in recent months. Earlier this year, a female UPenn swimmer told The Washington Examiner that Thomas “compares herself to Jackie Robinson” and “mocks” competing on the women’s team, as Townhall covered. Thomas made headlines late last year after winning a 1,650-yard freestyle race where the runner-up finished 38 seconds behind.
“All she does is make comments to people like, ‘At least I’m still No. 1 in the country,’ and those kinds of cocky things,” the swimmer told the Examiner. “She doesn’t care how all this is affecting us and how this is affecting our relationship to swimming. She doesn't care, and it makes it really hard to like her.”
In another interview with the Examiner, an anonymous female UPenn swimmer said that Thomas “was not even close to being competitive as a man in the 50 and the 100 (freestyle events),” and that “just because Lia is biologically a man, [Lia] is just naturally better than many females in the 50 and the 100 or anything that [Lia] wasn’t good at as a man.”
Sanchez wrote that Thomas was competitive as a male athlete, and began hormone replacement therapy in May of 2019. Thomas reportedly felt “substantial” relief and “a lot better and healthier” afterwards. Thomas reportedly “shrunk about an inch, she noticed her strength wasn’t the same, fat had also had been redistributed within her body.”
“She [Thomas] realized she desperately needed competitive swimming—and that she wanted to do it as her authentic self. As a member of the women’s team,” Sanchez wrote.
Despite undergoing some changes as a result of the hormone therapy treatment, Thomas continues to dominate biological female swimmers at races. So much so, that Thomas has faced criticism from several notable figures in swimming, including Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist who heads Champion Women, and Swimming World editor John Lohn who likened Thomas to “doping-fueled athletes of East Germany and China” in past Olympic Games.
An unnamed Penn parent “who identifies as a progressive but opposes Thomas’s eligibility” in women’s sports reportedly said that “it’s not transphobic to say I disagree with where she’s swimming.”
In response, Thomas told Sanchez that “there’s no such thing as half-support: Either you back her fully as a woman or you don’t.”
“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” Thomas told Sanchez in the interview. “I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team.”
In the foreseeable future, Sanchez wrote, Thomas plans on attending law school and continuing to swim, even at the 2024 Olympic trials.
“She’s thinking about civil rights law, where she can advocate for others who are marginalized and need to know they’re not alone,” Sanchez wrote.