Two transgender swimmers swam the fastest relay times of the Ivy League Women’s Championship on Wednesday night – leading to further questions about their continued participation in sporting competition.
Lia Thomas, 22, was swimming for Penn State’s men’s team in 2019 when she began to medically transition, taking testosterone blockers and estrogen. She is allowed to compete as a woman because she has completed a year of hormone treatment.
Iszac Henig, meanwhile, is transitioning from female to male, but the 21-year-old Yale swimmer has not taken any testosterone and is still able to compete as a woman.
On Wednesday night at Harvard University, Thomas and Henig went head-to-head in the relay, with both swimming the first leg of the 800-yard freestyle.
After a hard-fought battle, Thomas managed to cinch it for Penn with a time of 1:44:50, while Henig managed 1:44:65 for Yale – the two fastest splits of the competition.
Harvard was ultimately victorious, with Henig’s team, Yale, second. Penn was third.
The meet features races every day through Saturday, with individual competitions beginning on Thursday.
Lia Thomas, 22, is seen on Wednesday night at the Ivy League championship, held at Harvard’s pool in Massachusetts
Thomas leads the team in a cheer before the relay events on Wednesday
Iszac Henig is seen talking to a coach before the relay. Henig was born female but is transitioning to male – although has not began taking testosterone, so can still compete in women’s competition
Henig (left) was narrowly beaten on Wednesday night by Thomas (right) in the relay
U.S.A. Swimming earlier this month announced a new requirement that transgender women must suppress their testosterone levels for three years before competing, a rule under which Thomas would have been excluded.
It appeared that Thomas would then be barred from the N.C.A.A. championships in Atlanta in March, because the N.C.A.A. said they would follow U.S.A. Swimming rules.
But last week, the N.C.A.A., the national body overseeing college sports, said that instituting a new policy in the middle of the season would be unfair — allowing Thomas to compete at the N.C.A.A. championships.
Henig is seen poolside on Wednesday before the team relay events
Thomas listens to music and warms up before her race
Thomas (right) is seen standing besides the starting block, with Henig far left
Thomas, 22, was ranked 462 in the men’s competition but is currently the fastest woman
Thomas is seen swimming the first leg of Wednesday’s 800 yard relay race
Her continued participation in women’s competition has proved deeply divisive, with former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – who won gold in the decathlon as Bruce Jenner – among those criticizing Thomas for swimming in women’s races.
‘If a cis woman gets caught taking testosterone twice, she’s banned for life, whereas Lia has had 10 years of testosterone,’ said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming and the president of the advocacy group Champion Women.
‘It’s about the principle of having sport continue to be sex-segregated: having a space where women are really honored and where they can triumph,’ she said.
Hogshead-Makar coordinated a letter, signed by 16 of Thomas’s anonymous teammates, expressing concern about her participation.
Thomas will be able to compete at the N.C.A.A. championships in March
‘We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman,’ the letter states, CNN reported.
‘Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we also realize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.
‘Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.’
Yet other members of the team spoke in support of Thomas.
‘We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition,’ the athletes said.
‘We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds.
‘We recognize this is a matter of great controversy and are doing our best to navigate it while still focusing on doing our best in the pool and classroom.’
Henig, bearing the scars of recent breast removal surgery, will complete female-to-male transition at the end of their swimming career