Metro Weekly

Swimming World editor compares trans swimmer Lia Thomas to a “doped” athlete

John Lohn has also criticized the NCAA's transgender athlete policy, arguing trans athletes still retain physical advantages after hormone use.

lia thomas, trans, swimmer
Lia Thomas — Photo: University of Pennsylvania Athletics

The editor of a prominent swimming magazine has criticized the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy allowing transgender athletes to compete based on their gender identity, claiming University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who competes for the women’s team, has a physical advantage that is akin to an athlete taking steroids.

John Lohn, the editor-in-chief of Swimming World, claimed in an op-ed published on Dec. 19 that the NCAA’s requirement that trans female athletes undergo one year of testosterone suppressive treatment prior to competing in women’s sports is “not nearly stringent enough to create a level playing field between Thomas and the biological females against whom she is racing.”

Lohn argued that Thomas, who was assigned male at birth, has been naturally producing testosterone in her body for nearly 20 years, thus giving her physical advantages such as greater lung capacity and muscle building — which cannot be reversed by simply a year’s worth of hormone therapy.

“Despite the hormone suppressants she has taken, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, Thomas’ male-puberty advantage has not been rolled back an adequate amount,” Lohn wrote. “Consequently, Thomas dives into the water with an inherent advantage over those on the surrounding blocks.”

Thomas, who was a member of the men’s squad for three years prior to switching to the women’s team, has had a banner season, smashing longstanding school, pool and program records and clocking the fastest women’s 200-yard freestyle time of the season. But Lohn says her physical attributes, especially when it comes to strength, give her an unfair advantage.

“She is stronger. It is that simple. And this strength is beneficial to her stroke, on turns, and to her endurance,” he wrote. “Doping has the same effect.”

He then compared Thomas’ strength to that of Olympic swimmers Kornelia Ender, Kristin Otto, and Michelle Smith, all of whom were accused of using performance-enhancing substances during competitions in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

“When the likes of Ender and Otto powered through the water, en route to Olympic titles, they enjoyed a massive advantage over the competition. Babashoff couldn’t keep up. Neither could Brigitha. Why?” wrote Lohn. “They were competing against women who were fed steroids and reaped the rewards — most notably enhanced strength. Thomas enjoys similar advantages.”

Related: Trans college swimmer sets conference records, making national history

He added that testosterone suppressants only account for an approximate 2 to 3 percent change in performance while the time difference between male and female swimming records is around 11 percent.

Lohn then vented his spleen at the NCAA, accusing the governing body in collegiate sports of having “turned a blind eye to the situation,” just as it has allegedly in the past with doping athletes. He urged the NCAA to adjust its policies regarding transgender swimmers only allow Thomas to swim as part of an exhibition race, but not against cisgender females, at the NCAA championships.

“According to NCAA rules, Thomas has met expectations for participation. But for Thomas to suggest she does not have a significant advantage, as she did in one interview, is preposterous at best, and denial at worst. Sure, it is on the NCAA to adjust its bylaws in the name of fair competition for the thousands of swimmers who compete at the collegiate level. It is also on Thomas to acknowledge her edge,” Lohn wrote.

“Providing Thomas with an opportunity to exhibition and record times while in peak condition would be a suitable decision by the NCAA,” he concluded. “Allowing her to register times against athletes who are at an undeniable disadvantage would not be acceptable.”

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