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Female swimmer says NCAA ordered her to take lesser trophy for photo op despite tie with trans athlete

Riley Gaines
University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines (right) poses next to Lia Thomas after the two athletes tied for fifth place at an NCAA Women's Swimming Championship, Mar. 17, 2022. |

A female college athlete says the National Collegiate Athletics Association showed preferential treatment to a biologically male swimmer over her even though they tied in a recent swimming championship.

University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tied for fifth place with trans-identified swimmer Lia Thomas (formerly known as Will) of the University of Pennsylvania in the 200-yard freestyle at the recent NCAA Women’s Swimming Championship in Atlanta, Georgia.

Thomas, a biologically male swimmer who previously competed on Penn’s men’s swimming team, has garnered national headlines as the debate about the participation of trans-identified athletes on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity rather than their biological sex looms large in U.S. politics.

Appearing on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” Wednesday, Gaines maintained that “the NCAA handled everything extremely poorly,” referring to her tie with Thomas at the swimming championship.

“When we finished and I went behind the podium to collect my fifth-place trophy … they kind of blatantly told me that Lia would hold the fifth-place trophy and that I could pose with the sixth-place trophy for photos and would be mailed a fifth-place trophy in the mail,” she recalled.

Gaines elaborated on her discussion with an NCAA official: “I asked him, ‘Is there a reason why you’re giving Lia the trophy?’ He just explained to me that ‘We’re giving it in chronological order.’” She said that response prompted her to question him again because “we tied,” upon which he responded, “We’re just going to give the trophy to Lia, we respect and admire your swim, but Lia needs to hold the trophy.”

“I was shocked, and I know all the other swimmers who were standing by and listening to this were also shocked,” she added. “I was standing right next to Lia and [he] heard it all, and so it was baffling that this could happen.”

Gaines suggested that “the NCAA wasn’t prepared for a situation like this,” lamenting that “when they were faced with it, they protected such a small minority and turned their back on what the organization and Title IX really stands for.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was established to provide equal opportunities for women and girls in education, including in athletics.

The swimmer agreed with Carlson that “this seems like cheating, to allow someone with a biological advantage to compete” on the women’s swimming team: “I think there’s a difference between your sex and your gender identity, and so I think that it’s just been totally misconstrued and lost in the past couple of years or so. But it’s finally gotten to the point where it’s being shown and it’s completely violating women and women’s rights, especially in sports.”

Gaines explained that based on conversations with “tons and tons of NCAA swimmers,” she has discovered that “their athletic directors or their media people or their coaches or other outside influences have told them, ‘Don’t say anything, just avoid the situation, save face a little bit.’”

For her part, Gaines praised her “amazing support system at the University of Kentucky, whether that be my athletic director, all the way down to my head coach.”

Gaines concluded the interview by describing the allowance of biological males who identify as females to compete in women’s sports as “totally wrong” in light of the advantages they have because of their “different lung capacities” as well as their height and testosterone levels: “Whether you be on testosterone blockers or not, it doesn’t suppress going through puberty as a male, especially the one in question who swam three years as a male on UPenn.”

At the same March 17 swimming championship where Gaines and Thomas tied for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle, Thomas captured first place in the 500-yard freestyle. The championship event featured protesters affiliated with the conservative group Concerned Women for America demonstrating against Thomas’ presence in the competition.

Concerned Women for America has filed a civil rights complaint against the University of Pennsylvania for allowing Thomas to compete on the women’s swimming team. The complaint includes testimony from female swimmers at UPenn, one of whom told The Daily Mail, “it’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women.”

The anonymous comments cited by Concerned Women for America reflect the fact that besides Gaines, few female swimmers have shared their concerns with Thomas’ participation in women’s swimming publicly.

Concerns about fairness in women’s sports have prompted several states to pass laws requiring trans-identified athletes to play on sports teams that correspond with their biological sex as opposed to their gender identity.

In 2022 alone, such measures have become law in Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah. Those states join Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia as states that have enacted laws designed to protect women’s sports.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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