A senior at the University of Kentucky, named Riley Gaines, competed in the women’s 200 freestyle at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championships. At the end of the race, as he touched the wall, Gaines looked up and realized the board said that she had placed fifth, which put her in the top five collegiate female swimmers in the nation. But shortly after, she realized she’d tied with transgender athlete Lia Thomas, a biological man who identifies as a woman.
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At that moment she was overcome by a flood of emotions, Gaines said. Happy for her competitors but bewildered, she went back behind the podium where NCAA officials were distributing the awards.
The man who was handing out the trophies in an NCAA shirt told her: “Hey, I just want to let you know, we only have one fifth-place trophy, so yours will be coming in the mail. We went ahead and gave the fifth-place trophy to Lia, but you can pose on the podium with the sixth-place trophy.”
That got her thinking, she had placed fifth, but they were asking her to give Thomas the moment?
Gaines briefly argued with the official, as Thomas and other swimmers looked on. After which she took her place on the podium, holding the sixth place trophy next to the transgender athlete whom she had tied with.
Gaines said she told this to the official as she argued with him: “Ok that’s fine, she worked hard, just like I worked hard, there’s no question there.” But can I ask why she gets the fifth-place trophy before I do? Especially last night, she just won the national title.”
The official told her that they gave out the awards in chronological order, perhaps referencing the lanes the athletes swam in.
“I just want you to know that we respect you and admire your swim so much, but we just want Lia to hold the fifth-place trophy,” he responded, according to Gaines.
“I was probably running my mouth a little more than I should. I told the guy, ‘I don’t think that’s that’s right, and I don’t think that’s fair. There’s no dispute that only one of us can hold the trophy, but I think given the circumstances, you’re just trying to save face a little bit,’” said Gaines.
“It was a bit disheartening. It really was. I left the pool with no trophy. Not a big deal, but it was the goal that I had set all year,” she added.
The University of Kentucky swimmer was not the only one who was upset, she said, her athletic director was pretty upset that she had to leave the pool without her trophy.
“The more I thought about it, the more it fired me up. It’s almost like the NCAA is trying to save face by giving Lia the fifth-place trophy,” she said.
“Who are we trying to protect here? And who are we trying to fight for here?” she questioned.
Photo: screencap of video