ATLANTA – University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas qualified for her second NCAA final Friday morning after finishing 200 free yards in one minute 42.09 seconds to secure the second seed for the evening final.
Stanford Jr. and Canadian Olympian Taylor Rock will be the top seed, after winning the playoffs with a time of 1:41.89.
Thomas, a transgender woman, has opened the race for Laticia-Leigh Transom, a senior at USC. After the first hundred, she was behind by nearly the length of her body. However, Thomas passed Transom at the last turn.
Thomas entered the competition being tied for the third time with the fastest time in the country at 1:41.93. She held first place until Wednesday, when Ruck (1:40.59) and Isabel Ivey (1:41.35) both posted better times, and Stanford’s Torri Huske tied Thomas, while competing in the 800 freestyle relay at the NCAA Championship.
Thomas Wrack and Ivey, the third seed, enter the final Friday night separated by 0.35 seconds, in a showdown setting for the NCAA Championship. Also possible: Beating Macy Franklin’s record time of 1:39.10, set in 2015.
Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win the National Championship on Thursday when she captured the 500th freestyle. Her victory came amid protests outside the McAuley Aquatic Center, and a noticeable lull from the boisterous crowd inside.
Olympic student Erica Sullivan and the University of Texas, who finished third, showed her support Friday morning in an opinion piece for Newsweek.
“I cannot sit in silence because I see the fundamental rights of fellow swimmers up for discussion,” Sullivan said. “Like everyone else in this sport, Lia has trained hard to get to where she is and has followed all the rules and guidelines laid out in front of her. Like everyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time. And when she does, she deserves, like everyone else in this sport. Sport, celebrating hard-earned success, not calling it a cheater just because of its identity.”
A small group of protesters returned to the park outside the pool on Friday morning. Yellow barriers lined the sidewalk and there was extra security. An event staff member said the additional barriers were due to increased interest around Thomas.
Protesters stood behind barricades, chanting through a megaphone.
“[Thomas winning a national championship] Amy Souza, a showrunner for Save Women’s Sports, who traveled to Atlanta from her home in Washington, told ESPN, “Lea Thomas didn’t win. He [sic] cheated. He stole a place from several women. It was very devastating.”
In addition to the 200 freestyles Friday night, Thomas will also swim the 100 freestyles on Saturday.
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”