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Lia Thomas wins NCAA championship in 500 freestyle

Thomas is the first trans athlete to win an NCAA Division 1 national title.

Lia Thomas is an historic trans athlete competing for the University of Pennsylvania at the NCAA Women’s Swimming National Championships.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas captured her first national championship with a victory in the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Division Women’s I Swimming and Diving Championships at Georgia Tech thursday.

Thomas, who has led the time charts in the event for most of the 2021-2022 season, raced away in 4:33.24, and became the first transgender student-athlete in NCAA history win an individual national championship at the Division I level.

“It means the world to be here,” she told ESPN right after the race, “to be with my best friends and teammates and be able to compete.”

The race itself was nip-and-tuck for most of the event as Thomas find herself fight three U.S. Olympians who themselves where in the middle of a three-way dice for the team championship between Virginia, Texas and Stanford.

From the start, Thomas set the pace but Texas freshman Erica Sullivan, out LGBTQ silver medalist at 1500 meters for Team USA in Tokyo, went out with her and took the lead through the first 100 yards. Virginia’s Emma Weyant, silver medalist at Tokyo in the 400-meter individual medley was third followed by follow Olympic silver medalist Brooke Forde of Stanford.

Thomas stretched out the advantage by mid-race to win by 1.75 seconds. Weyant was second followed by Sullivan and Forde.

She is the second transgender student-athlete to win individual national championship honors across all divisions, joining Franklin Pierce track and field athlete CeCé Telfer. Telfer won her title in the 400-meter hurdle at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships in 2019.

Thomas’ victory also was the first national championship in women’s swimming for the Ivy League since 200. Columbia’s Cristina Teuscher brought home NCAA titles in the 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter individual medley that year.