Metro Weekly

NCAA swimmer blames Lia Thomas for taking spot in championship finals

Virginia Tech's Reka Gyorgy calls on NCAA to bar transgender females from competing in women's events in the future.

Reka Gyorgy – Photo: Virginia Tech

A Virginia Tech swimmer is heaping criticism on the NCAA after failing to qualify for the finals of the 500-yard freestyle because she missed out on a top-16 finish in the qualifying rounds — a situation she says was caused by the participation of University of Pennsylvanian transgender swimmer and eventual 500-yard champion Lia Thomas.

Writing in an open letter posted to her private Instagram account, Reka Gyorgy, who previously competed for her home country of Hungary in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2016 Summer Olympics, blamed the NCAA for its “decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete” in women’s swimming events, according to Fox News.

“With all due respect, I would like to address something that is a problem in our sport right now and hurting athletes, especially female swimmers,” Gyorgy posted. “Everyone has heard and known about transgender swimmer, Lia Thomas, and her case including all the issues and concerns that her situation brought into our sport.

“I’d like to point out that I respect and fully stand with Lia Thomas; I am convinced that she is no different than me or any other D1 swimmer who has woken up at 5am her entire life for morning practice. She has sacrificed family vacations and holidays for a competition. She has pushed herself to the limit to be the best athlete she could be. She is doing what she is passionate about and deserves that right. On the other hand, I would like to critique the NCAA rules that allow her to compete against us, who are biologically women.”

Gyorgy said she hoped the NCAA would change the rules to ensure that transgender females cannot compete against cisgender females, saying that allowing them to do so “is disrespectful against the biologically female swimmers who are competing in the NCAA.”

“It feels like the final spot was taken from me because of the NCAA’s decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete,” she wrote. “I know you could say I had the opportunity to swim faster and make the top 16, but this situation makes it a bit different and I can’t help but be angry or sad. It hurts me, my team and other women in the pool. One spot was taken away from the girl who got 9th in the 500 free and didn’t make it back to the A final, preventing her from being an All-American. Every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet.

“It is the result of the NCAA and their lack of interest in protecting their athletes. I ask the NCAA takes time to think about all the other biological women in swimming, try to think how the would feel if they would be in our shoes,” Gyorgy concluded. “Make the right changes for our sport and for a better future in swimming.”

Thomas finished first in the preliminaries of the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4 minutes, 33.82 seconds, and ultimately took home the national NCAA title in the event with a time of 4:33.24. She also tied for fifth in the women’s 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 43.40 seconds, and eighth in the 100-yard freestyle in 48.18 seconds, according to ESPN.

Thomas’ mere presence at the NCAA has sparked backlash not only against her, but against transgender athletes more generally, and trans females specifically, with many athletes questioning the fairness of allowing her to compete. Some lawmakers in various states have even pointed to her success as justification for passing bans prohibiting transgender youth from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

Earlier this year, the NCAA announced a new policy, which changed from requiring transgender women to have undergone 12 months of testosterone suppression before competing in female-designated events — a requirement Thomas has met — to allowing each sport’s national governing body to determine its own criteria for eligibility, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.

If a sport does not have a national governing body, or does not have a written policy, the sports international federation policy determines eligibility, or, if there is no international federation policy, International Olympic Committee criteria will be followed.

For swimming, the policy change meant that the NCAA was deferring to USA Swimming to set its own policy, which the organization did in February. Under that new policy, which did not apply to this year’s NCAA championships, transgender women will be required to go before an independent panel and prove they do not have a competitive advantage over their cisgender peers by providing bloodwork showing that the concentration of testosterone in their blood has been less than 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for a period of at least 36 months.

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