ATLANTA — University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas qualified for her second final at the NCAA championships Friday morning after finishing the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 42.09 seconds to secure the second seed for the evening finals.
Stanford junior and Canadian Olympian Taylor Ruck will be the top seed, after winning her heat in 1:41.89.
Thomas, who is a transgender woman, opened the race trailing USC senior Laticia-Leigh Transom. After the first 100, she was behind by nearly a body length. Thomas, however, passed Transom on the last turn.
Thomas entered the prelims tied for the third-fastest time in the country at 1:41.93. She held the top time until Wednesday, when Ruck (1:40.59) and Cal’s Isabel Ivey (1:41.35) posted better times, and Stanford’s Torri Huske tied Thomas, while competing in the 800 freestyle relay at the NCAA championships.
Thomas, Ruck and Ivey, who is seeded third, enter the final Friday night separated by 0.35 seconds, setting up a showdown for the NCAA championship. Also possible: beating Missy Franklin’s record time of 1:39.10, set in 2015.
Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship Thursday when she captured the 500 freestyle. Her victory came amid protests outside of the McAuley Aquatic Center, and noticeable quiet from the otherwise rowdy crowd inside of it.
Olympian and University of Texas freshman Erica Sullivan, who finished third, showed her support Friday morning in an op-ed published by Newsweek.
« I can’t sit silently by as I see a fellow swimmer’s fundamental rights be put up for debate, » Sullivan said. « Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time. And when she does , she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity. »
A small group of protesters returned to the lawn outside of the pool Friday morning. Yellow barriers lined the sidewalk and additional security was present. An event staff member said the additional barriers were due to the increased attention around Thomas.
Protesters stood behind the barriers, chanting through a megaphone.
« [Thomas winning a national championship] was really upsetting, » Save Women’s Sports protester Amy Sousa, who traveled to Atlanta from her home in Washington, told ESPN. « Lia Thomas didn’t win. Hey [sic] cheated. And he stole a place from multiple women. It was very devastating. »
In addition to the 200 freestyle Friday night, Thomas will also swim the 100 freestyle Saturday.