Olympics

Penn’s Lia Thomas ties for fifth in 200-yard freestyle final at NCAA swimming championships

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ATLANTA — In her second NCAA finals appearance, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas tied for fifth in Friday’s 200-yard freestyle at McAuley Aquatic Center.

Stanford junior and Canadian Olympian Taylor Ruck claimed the title, out-touching Cal senior Isabel Ivey at the wall in 1 minute, 41.12 seconds to set a McAuley Aquatic Center record. It was the second time a pool record was set in the 200 freestyle at the NCAA championships. Ruck’s time was 2.02 seconds off Missy Franklin’s NCAA record of 1:39.10 set in 2015.

« I’m so glad to have my teammates behind me, » Ruck said in a post-race interview with Elizabeth Beisel on ESPN. « This whole season has just been a blast being back. I’m so grateful to have them here. »

Earlier in the meet, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship when she won the 500 freestyle on Thursday.

Ruck, Thomas, and Ivey were the top three seeds in Friday’s 200 free final after their times in their qualifying heats were separated by 0.35 seconds. Ruck quickly got out to a lead, and Thomas was seventh at the first turn. Thomas trailed behind as Ruck and Ivey scrapped for the lead out front. Thomas pushed ahead in the final 100 yards, but ultimately finished in 1:43.40, more than a second slower than her prelim time.

Ruck reached over the lane line to shake hands with Thomas before swimming over to Ivey and embracing her.

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Entering Friday’s final, Ivey’s 1:41.35 was the fastest time in the event and also the McAuley pool record. She set the mark on Wednesday night in the 800 freestyle relay (the NCAA counts leadoff legs of relays as official times). Thomas had previously held the fastest time since December with the 1:41.93 she swam at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Thomas’ victory in the 500 free cam amid protests outside of the McAuley Aquatic Center, and noticeable quiet from the otherwise rowdy crowd inside of it. Few members of the swimming community have gone on the record with their opinions about Thomas and the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sports, but that ice has begun to thaw throughout the championship meet.

« I put myself in the shoes of Lia’s parents, » Sophia Ruck, Taylor’s mother, said to ESPN before the 200 freestyle. « And I have nothing but empathy. And if that’s what Lia needs to do to live her best life, that’s up to Lia. »

Jennifer Reese, the mother of UCLA swimmer Claire Grover, said to ESPN: « I’ve always felt that Lia Thomas and every swimmer should be shown the respect they’re due. That being said, there are clear differences. Being treated that way is one thing, but competing is different. Biological females and biological males are two different people. And I think that is important. It makes me sad. I think everything that women have fought for for so long is getting eroded. »

Thomas is slated to swim the 100 free on Saturday. She is the 10th seed.

ESPN’s John Barr contributed to this report.

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