CAMBRIDGE, MA – Leah Thomas, University of Pennsylvania swimmer, Ivy League champion.
Thomas, a transgender woman, won the 500-yard freestyle Thursday night in 4 minutes 37.32 seconds, a record at Blodgett Pool and her best time since the Zippy Invitational in December.
Thomas was among three Pennsylvania swimmers in the final, with teammate Katherine Purker taking second by seven seconds while Anna Calandadze finished fourth.
Borker and Calandades applauded when Thomas received her medal. After the ceremony, the three Quakers posed for photos on the catwalk, Thomas holding the “Ivy 2022 Champion” banner.
Thomas entered the night as the top seed after winning the Morning Heat with a time of 4:41.19. She closed off Day Two’s roster by swimming in the second stage of the 200th Freestyle Relay in Pennsylvania who finished fourth. She is scheduled to swim in the 200 freestyle and either 1,650 or 100 freestyle later this week.
On Wednesday, Thomas was part of the 800 free relay for Penn who finished fourth.
Andy Myers, a Pennsylvania senior who competes in freestyle and butterfly, wore a transgender flag face mask Thursday to show support for Thomas.
“I want everyone in this meeting to know that I support her,” Myers said. “You’ve worked for all of this and given up so much in order to transform and be authentically yourself. I think it’s really important and I think it’s really brave what you’re doing today.”
Princeton’s Eli Marquardt, the 2020 500 freestyle champion, finished third on Thursday.
No swimmers were made available to the media after the races.
Among the conference’s newly selected champions on Thursday was Yale’s Isaac Heng, who won the 50th freestyle. Hennig, a transgender man, won in 21.93 seconds, smashing his billiards record set earlier on Thursday in qualifying. He returned to the pool Thursday night to help Yale set a record in the 200th freestyle relay encounter. Bulldogs finished in 1:29.66.
Thomas’ success has brought national attention to the issue of transgender athletes, resulting in criticism and praise. Several of Thomas’ teammates spoke anonymously, supporting Thomas and criticizing her inclusion in the women’s team. Thomas was a member of the men’s team Penn for three seasons.
On February 3, three-time swimming gold medalist Nancy Hoogshead-Mccar sent an unsigned letter on behalf of 16 Pennsylvania swimmers and their families asking the Ivy League not to defend Thomas’ inclusion in the post-season. On February 10, more than 300 members of the swimming community—including representatives from each of the Power 5 conferences, five current teammates (including Myers) and Tokyo Games silver medalist Erica Sullivan—signed an open letter posted on it. Athletic Ally supports Thomas.
Thomas returns to the pool on Friday for the 200th freestyle.
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