Who is Gretchen Walsh? Swimmer wins 100-yard freestyle as Lia Thomas finishes last

Who is Gretchen Walsh? Swimmer wins 100-yard freestyle as Lia Thomas finishes last
Gretchen Walsh (L) beat Lia Thomas (R) by only a second (gretchwalsh2/Instagram and Penn Athletics)

Wrapping up her collegiate career, transgender swimmer Lia Thomas finished eighth in the 100-yard freestyle final at the NCAA championships on Saturday, March 19. Earlier in the championships, Thomas became the first known transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship after winning the 500-yard freestyle final.

Earlier, Thomas swam 47.37 seconds, which was only 0.10 seconds behind third-place University of Alabama swimmer Morgan Scott and one second behind first-place University of Virginia swimmer Gretchen Walsh.


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Who is Gretchen Walsh?

Gretchen Walsh beat Lia Thomas by only a second in the championship. Born on January 29, 2003, Walsh is a competitive American swimmer and holds two world junior records in mixed-gender relay events, and American records in the 4×50 yard freestyle relay, 4×50 yard medley relay, 4×100 yard freestyle relay, and 4×100 yard medley relay.

Walsh became the fastest female freshman to swim the 50-yard freestyle in the NCAA at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships this year. She won as many as six gold medals at the 2019 World Junior Championships and five gold medals and one silver medal at the 2018 Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships. Walsh competes collegiately for the University of Virginia. Walsh's older sister, Alexandra, is also a competitive swimmer.

Walsh attended Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. Here, she competed scholastically for the high school team. She set national high school records in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle. She won state championships titles in several events. 

A lot of controversies have surrounded the transgender swimmer in recent times. Thomas, 22, is a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. Thomas competed for three years at Penn as a man, Will Thomas, before the transition. At a meet on November 20 last year, Thomas had a 1:43:47 time in the 200-meter freestyle and 4:35:06 in the 500-meter freestyle. These times, which were records for Penn, would have placed Thomas second and third, respectively in the NCAA Women’s Championships. Thomas breaking women’s records has, like always, raised questions about how fair it is when people who are born as men compete as women. There has been a lot of debate surrounding what is fair on the field, the court, the track, and in the pool. 

Recently, a member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team said that teammates are uncomfortable changing in the locker room in transgender swimmer Lia Thomas's presence. Thomas has reportedly said that she dates women. “It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women,” the swimmer said.

The swimmer also said that Thomas “seems like she enjoys” the attention she gets due to the controversy around her. “It’s affected all of us way more than it’s affected her,” Thomas’ teammate said. The swimmer also claimed that the teammates are afraid of talking about their issues because they might be labeled “transphobic". “If this gets a little bit bigger, I might go on the record, but I’m definitely a little afraid,” she said. “What I’m afraid of is that potential employers will Google my name and see commentary about things I said and think, oh, this person’s transphobic.”

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