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Swimmer who tied Lia Thomas in 200-yard freestyle says officials cheated her on podium: 'We just want Lia to hold the fifth-place trophy'

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University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines after finishing tied for 5th in the women's 200-yard freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, March 18, 2022, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Riley Gaines — who tied transgender swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the women's 200-yard freestyle finals at the NCAA championships over the weekend — told the Daily Wire that officials cheated her on the podium after the event.

Official told Gaines her trophy 'will be coming in the mail'

The University of Kentucky senior told the outlet in an interview that after the race, she ventured behind the podium where NCAA officials were distributing trophies.

Gaines told the Daily Wire that a man 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.”

Yes, Thomas would have this moment, too.

Gaines told the outlet she briefly argued with the official: “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 Gaines they gave the awards in chronological order, which might mean the order of the swimming lanes; the outlet added that "the NCAA has not addressed this point to The Daily Wire."

'We just want Lia to hold the fifth-place trophy'

“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,” Gaines recalled the official telling her, the outlet said.

Gaines noted to the Daily Wire that she then told the official, "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."

With that Gaines stood on the podium next to a biological man who identifies as a woman — and who took center stage from yet another biological female athlete.

“It was a bit disheartening,” Gaines told the outlet. “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 asked the Daily Wire, "Who are we trying to protect here? And who are we trying to fight for here?”

Gaines speculated to the outlet that the NCAA went into the championships “overly sensitive about” Thomas — and perhaps fearful of potential wrath from those who were looking for any slights against the transgender swimmer.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to back [transgender athletes] more than … 90 to 95% 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,” she added to the Daily Wire.

The NCAA did not immediately reply to TheBlaze's request for comment regarding Gaines' assertions.

'It just broke my heart'

Gaines also spoke to the outlet about Virginia Tech University swimmer Reka Gyorgy, who criticized the NCAA, saying Thomas had "taken away" her spot in the 500-yard freestyle finals.

Gaines told the Daily Wire that she stood next to Gyorgy during the final heat of the 500 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,” Gaines recalled to the outlet. “She had tears in her eyes.”

The Daily Wire said Gaines repeatedly emphasized that she doesn't believe Thomas is the problem: “I am in full support of her and [in] full support of her transition and her swimming career and everything like that, 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.”

However, she added to the outlet that Thomas also used the women's locker room at the NCAAs, which Gaines said was awkward.

“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 told the Daily Wire, adding that "everyone in the locker room, I think, was kind of stunned" but that “no one really looked or anything like that.”

The outlet said the NCAA has not responded to requests for comment on this point.

Gaines added to the Daily Wire that the NCAA managed to "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.”

Editor's note: A previouus version of this article listed the race as "200-meter" freestyle instead of "200-yard."


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