Fitness

Lia Thomas and Trans Athletes

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Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.

Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …

1650 yard distance
Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765
Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds)
Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith)
Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky)
She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female

500 yard distance
Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72
Lia’s current, 4:34:06
Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06
Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32

200 yard distance
Prior to transition 1:39.31
Male record, 1:29.15
After transition 1:41.93
Female record of 1:39.10

See a pattern here?
Not advantage, consistency

There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.

To put it another way:

And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.

Maybe we should learn a a bit more about what this very private athlete has to say for herself. Her experience is not atypical of the gender testing that has gone on for many decades.

The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.

Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.

Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:

Anyone saying trans girls have an unfair advantage have never seen me perform a sport.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

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