CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas, a transgender woman, won her third Ivy League singles championship Saturday night by touching Yale’s Isaac Hennig, a transgender man, in a predictable 100-yard freestyle.
Thomas finished with four titles after leading the Quakers to victory in the 400th freestyle later on Saturday.
Thomas finished 100 free goals in 47.63 seconds, breaking records in the meet and Blodgett Bowl that Hennig scored just hours before the morning qualifiers. Henig finished in 47.82, and 2020 Ivy League champion Nikki Fenema of Princeton finished third with a time of 48.81.
It was the first time this weekend that Thomas, who is old, was pushed to the finish. Swimming alongside Henig, Thomas followed young Yale midway through the race and slowly gained ground before sprinting forward just past the wall. Thomas and Heng hug over the driveway line before Thomas sprays water with her right hand in celebration. Before leaving the pool, I congratulated Venema.
Thomas’ time is the eighth-fastest in the country this season, according to Swim Cloud. She has shaved close to 1.5 seconds off her best time of the season.
Henig entered the race as the top seed after setting a Blodgett Pool and Ivy League records in the top leagues with a time of 47.80.
Prior to Saturday, the pool record belonged to Yale’s Bella Hindley, who clocked 47.85 in 2019. Mickey Dalke held the pool record of 48.64, which was set in 2018.
With the win, Thomas became the only three-time winner of the meet. She won the 200 freestyle on Friday by nearly three seconds and the 500 freestyle on Thursday by more than seven seconds. Thomas’s 200 time of 1:43.12 is an Ivy League record, and her 4:37.32 is a 500 Blodgett Pool record.
All that said this week, Thomas is the new owner of two Ivy League records and three Blodgett Pool records.
Thomas also helped the Quakers win the event’s final event, the 400th Freestyle Relay. Ben 3: 17.80 set a new pool record and was the first Ivy League win in the program’s history. Thomas was named the top scorer for swimming in the match. Ben finished in third place overall.
Her fellow Freesteller Kathryn Burker won twice this weekend, taking first place in the 1000 and 1650. Thomas, who has the best 1650 time in the Ivy League this season and eighth best time in the country, did not compete in the event.
Harvard has a pair of two-time winners: Felicia Pasadeen won the 400 individual medley and 200 backstroke, and freshman Aleksandra Denisenko took home titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
Hennig, who set a record 50 freestyle wins on Thursday, was looking forward to winning his second title Saturday night in his first two-match with Thomas in the Ivy League singles race. The last time they competed against each other was on January 8 in the 100th Freestyle in a three-way meet with Dartmouth in Pennsylvania. Henig got better than Thomas in that race, winning 49.57. Thomas finished sixth that day, more than three seconds behind Henig.
Henig was also part of two of this week’s championship relay teams. He drove the Yale 200 freestyle relay which set a meet record on Thursday, and swam the base stage of the 400 medley relay on Friday. Yale was crowned champion after Harvard was disqualified.
Thomas’ winning times in the 200 and 500 were her best times of the season. In December at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Thomas set the nation’s best times in the 200 (1:41.93) and 500 (4:34.06), which led to her qualification for the NCAA Championships in March in Atlanta.
Since then, Thomas has been at the center of the debate over who can compete and win in women’s sports. Prior to competing on the women’s team, Thomas spent three seasons on the Pennsylvania men’s team. Several of Thomas’ teammates spoke anonymously, supporting Thomas and criticizing her inclusion in the women’s team.
But the controversy over the past two months has been muted throughout the four-day Ivy League tournament. Harvard University’s Alum Schuyler-Pillar, the first transgender swimmer to compete on a Division I men’s team, rolled a transgender flag on a railing near the pool deck.
Competitors congratulated Thomas, who declined several interview requests from ESPN, after her victory and earned the admiration of her colleagues on the podium. Andy Myers, a University of Pennsylvania senior, wore a transgender flag face mask throughout the encounter. The conference did not provide swimmers to the media at the meeting.
Thomas automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. Her times at 1650 and 100 Freestyle put her in competition to be selected for those events as well. Henig is also in competition in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
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