A senior University of Kentucky swimmer that competed in the 200 yard freestyle race on Friday at the NCAA women’s championship against biological male swimmer Lia Thomas, who competes on the women's team, says that NCAA officials placed the UPenn swimmer ahead of her on the podium, despite the two tying in the race.
Speaking with The Daily Wire in a phone conversation, Riley Gaines said that as NCAA officials were handing out trophies on the podium following the race, he said: "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."
Gaines was taken aback, and briefly argued with the official before taking the sixth place trophy and standing beside Thomas, a biological male, who has stirred controversy over the swimming season.
"Ok that’s fine, she worked hard, just like I worked hard, there’s no question there," Gaines recalled telling the official as she argued with him. "But can I ask why she gets the fifth place trophy before I do? Especially last night, she just won the national title."
Gaines said that the awards were given out in chronological order, perhaps in reference to the lanes the swimmers competed 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,” the official responded, according to Gaines, who The Daily Wire said "laughed incredulously… as she repeated his words."
"I was probably running my mouth a little more than I should," she said. "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.'"
"It was a bit disheartening," she said. "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."
Gaines said she wasn’t the only one that took issue with not receiving a trophy that day, her athletic director was reportedly upset as well.
"The more I thought about it, the more it fired me up," she said. "It’s almost like the NCAA is trying to save face by giving Lia the fifth place trophy."
"Who are we trying to protect here," she questioned, "and who are we trying to fight for here?"
Gaines told The Daily Wire that she believes the NCAA went into the championships being "overly sensitive about" Thomas, whose presence in the women's swimming competition drew protestors from across the country.
"It’s almost like they’re trying to back [transgender athletes] more than…90 to 95 percent of the rest of the swimmers who are kind of bummed by and affected by the rules that were in place for Lia to swim," Gaines said.
Gaines wasn’t the only one to speak out following the championships over the weekend.
Virginia Tech swimmer Reka Gyorgy spoke out on Sunday, releasing a letter on Instagram that she had sent to the NCAA "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," wrote Gyorgy.
Gyorgy placed 17th in the 500 yard freestyle prelims, where Thomas came in first. Only the top 16 swimmers go on to compete in the finals.
"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," wrote Gyorgy.
"It hurts me, my team, and other women in the pool. One spot was taken away from the girl who got 9th in the 500 free and didn’t make it back to the A final preventing her from being an All-American. Every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet," she added.
Gaines told The Daily Wire that she was standing with Gyorgy as they watched the final heat of the 500 freestyle on Thursday.
"When Lia touched the wall, and [Reka] realized that she got 17th, the first thing she said to me was, 'Wow, I can’t believe I just got beat by someone who probably wasn’t even trying their hardest.'"
"It just broke my heart," the University of Kentucky swimmer said. "She had tears in her eyes."
Gaines told The Daily Wire that she wasn’t trying to bash Thomas, saying that the UPenn swimmer is really "not the problem."
"I am in full support of her and full support of her transition and her swimming career and everything like that," said Gaines, "because there’s no doubt that she works hard too, but she’s just abiding by the rules that the NCAA put in place, and that’s the issue."
Gaines noted that athletes were also "stunned" when Thomas came into the women’s locker room to change.
"The first day I got there, I was in the locker room changing, and then she came in, and it just kind of got silent," Gaines explained.
"Everyone in the locker room, I think, was kind of stunned," she added, noting that "no one really looked or anything like that."
When pressed on how she felt about this by The Daily Wire, Gaines said it was "definitely not something" that she personally was "enthused about.”
"It is rightful for people to be a little stunned and not just because of her, because people are judging her, but because it was such a controversial topic. I mean, it’s something everyone was curious about. And so I think it kind of just took people by surprise," added Gaines.
“It’s the first I had ever experienced something like this,” the swimmer added.
Gaines said that she thought other people would speak up before her. Public comments made by swimmers have been few and far between, with one mother recently noting that swimmers were "frightened" to speak up.
"But throughout the meet you still weren’t really hearing anything from anyone who weren’t OK with it," she said. "And there were so many girls who I knew were not OK with the things that have been happening and who were directly impacted."
"And so it just blew my mind, honestly, that there could be so many girls there who were bothered or affected personally…by Lia but they still didn’t say anything. But I think there’s outside factors that go into that as well," she added.
In the future, Gaines hopes that the NCAA will "take into consideration all the girls who worked so hard to become an all-American, score points for their team, have another chance of going their best time in finals."
"What I’m not OK with is that they were able to just turn their backs on all of the biological females, not even just in swimming, but in all NCAA sports, just to kind of appease a small minority," Gaines said, after saying that the association probably didn’t have enough time this season to come up with some "great clear-cut solution."
"Title IX has been around for 50 years," she added. "The NCAA was even passing around Title IX shirts and on the back of the shirts it said equity, fairness. And I just thought it was a bit ironic that you preach one thing but do another."
"We need to create fair boundaries that protect the integrity of women in sports," Gaines said.
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