An All-American swimmer who competed against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas last week is slamming the NCAA for its policy, saying the allowance of transgender athletes in the sport is unfair and "disrespectful" to biological females.
Virginia Tech's Reka Gyorgy, a 2016 Olympian, two-time ACC Champion and two-time NCAA All-American, finished 17th last week in the NCAA Championships' 500-yard freestyle – an event that Thomas won. Because only 16 swimmers qualify for the finals, Thomas' participation in the event meant that Gyorgy failed to advance.
"The NCAA knew what was coming this past week. They knew opinions and minds will be divided and chose to do nothing," Gyorgy wrote in a letter to the NCAA, which was published by SwimSwam.com.
Thomas swam for the Penn men's team for three years but then began identifying as female and switched to the women's team. Thomas most recently swam for the men's team in 2019-2020.
Although Thomas met the NCAA requirements for transgender athletes – a policy that includes hormone suppression – Gyorgy and others believe the rules should be more strict. USA Swimming tightened its policy on transgender athletes in light of the controversy over Thomas.
"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 5 am her entire life for morning practice," Gyorgy wrote. "... On the other hand, I would like to critique the NCAA rules that allow her to compete against us, who are biologically women. I'm writing this letter right now in hopes that the NCAA will open their eyes and change these rules in the future. It doesn't promote our sport in a good way, and I think it is disrespectful against the biologically female swimmers who are competing in the NCAA."
Missing the finals due to Thomas' inclusion was frustrating, Gyorgy wrote. This was her final NCAA Championships.
"I'm a 5th-year senior, I have been top 16 and top 8 before, and I know how much of a privilege it is to make finals at a meet this big," she wrote. "This is my last college meet ever, and I feel frustrated. It feels like that final spot was taken away from me because of the NCAA's decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete. 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."
Further, Gyorgy noted, the swimmer who finished ninth in the 500 freestyle was prevented from becoming an All-American due to Thomas' inclusion. The eight swimmers who qualify for the championship final are automatically All-American.
"Every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet," Gyorgy wrote.
Gyorgy said she isn't blaming Thomas but instead the NCAA.
"Thursday was not a specific athlete's fault. It is the result of the NCAA and their lack of interest in protecting their athletes," she wrote. "I ask that the NCAA takes time to think about all the other biological women in swimming, try to think how they would feel if they would be in our shoes. Make the right changes for our sport and for a better future in swimming."
Under the new USA Swimming rules, a transgender woman must have a testosterone level of "less than 5 nmol/L" continuously for at least three years. Further, a three-person panel comprised of independent medical experts will determine if the transgender athlete has a "competitive advantage" over biological women based on "prior physical development of the athlete as a male." That policy, if adopted by the NCAA for this year's championships, apparently would have prevented Thomas from competing.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Lammeyer
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.