US transgender swimmer Lia Thomas
US transgender swimmer Lia Thomas after winning the 500 yard freestyle during the NCAA college meet. Image by AP

Posts freestyle with truth about trans swimmer podium pic

Lachlan Coady April 7, 2022

Three swimmers formed their own podium against US trans athlete Lia Thomas.


False. The swimmers have spoken of their support for Thomas and footage shows them applauding her victory moments before the photo.

Lia Thomas made headlines in March by becoming the first transgender athlete to win a US collegiate championship title – but a misleading photo of the swimmer has caused a stir on social media.

The University of Pennsylvania swimmer won in the 500 yard (457 metres) women’s freestyle NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) division one title, beating her nearest competitor by nearly two seconds.

Following her March 17 win, commentators and social media users pointed to a photograph which they claim shows Thomas’s nearest rivals protesting her involvement.

Australian Facebook pages (here and here) shared the image with a caption claiming the women “decided to make their own true podium”.

But the photo has been taken out of context. The image does show the second, third and fourth placed swimmers standing together with Thomas to the far left. However, her competitors have spoken of their support for the transgender athlete. 

Third placed Erica Sullivan labelled the “protest” claims as false and explained the photo is of her “closest friends” from last year’s Tokyo Olympics. Sullivan also posted on Instagram a picture of her shaking Thomas’s hand after the final and penned a column for Newsweek in which she told of her pride in supporting trans athletes.

Video footage from the podium ceremony also shows  Sullivan as well as Emma Weyant (second place) and Brooke Forde (fourth place) applauding Thomas in the minutes before, as she was announced the winner – despite some booing from sections of the crowd.

Forde provided a statement for her father Pat to read on the Yahoo Sports College Football podcast prior to the NCAA titles, expressing her “great respect” for Thomas who had always “followed the rules required”.

“I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCCAs this year,” the statement read.

Thomas began swimming aged five and came out to her parents in 2018. In May of the following year she began gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which involves taking testosterone supplements.

The NCAA allows trans women to compete in women’s events provided they have been on HRT for a certain length of time and provided their testosterone is below a certain level. USA Swimming’s policy states trans athletes must undergo three years of HRT before competing. Thomas was six months short of the three years but the NCAA decided not to adopt USA Swimming’s regulations and allowed her to compete.

The photo has also been fact-checked here and here.

The Verdict

The claim the swimmers formed their own podium against Thomas is false. The swimmers – Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde – explained the picture was a gathering of friends who competed together at the Tokyo Olympics. Video footage of the earlier medal ceremony also shows the trio applauding Thomas’s victory.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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