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Erica Sullivan speaks out in support of Lia Thomas

(Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Erica Sullivan voiced her support for trans athletes after finishing third to Lia Thomas in Thursday’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA swimming championships.

Thomas has been at the center of the national debate over transgender athletes’ participation in women’s sports, with some arguing against her involvement despite her meeting the NCAA’s outlined standards to compete.

“Transgender athletes should not be denied equal rights when compared to cisgender athletes,” Sullivan wrote in a Newsweek op-ed. “Women’s sports are stronger when all women—including trans women—are protected from discrimination, and free to be their true selves.”

Sullivan, a silver medalist in the 1500m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics, went on to defend Thomas’ participation in women’s collegiate swimming. The Penn swimmer became the first known transgender woman to win a Division I national championship on Thursday, finishing ahead of Sullivan, a Texas freshman, and Virginia’s Emma Weyant.

“Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time,” Sullivan wrote. “And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity.”