Former college swimmer Riley Gaines called out a pair of transgender athletes who qualified for the California high school preliminary final race but ultimately opted out of the event.

During her time at the University of Kentucky, Gaines competed in swimming against Lia Thomas. After winning the 2022 Division I women’s national championship, Thomas quickly became a focal point of the debate over who should compete in women’s sports.

Thomas was a member of the University of Pennsylvania men’s swim team for three seasons before switching to the women’s team after a sabbatical when the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, Gaines has been outspoken about her position on competition in women’s sports. On Friday, she took to Twitter and questioned whether the high school running backs discovered that they «clearly have an unfair advantage.»


SEC champion swimmer Riley Gaines speaks during the general session of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas. (August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer, has long argued that the participation of transgender athletes in school sports will discourage others from competing.

Athena Ryan finished second in last week’s 1600m race in California. Ryan, who was born male and became a female, competed on the men’s team until 2021.


Runner Adeline Johnson competed in the same race as Ryan and finished in fourth place. Finishing outside the top three positions meant the 18-year-old Johnson would not qualify for the state finals. During her post-race podium introduction, she was seen giving Johnson a thumbs-down gesture.

A second transgender athlete, Lorelei Barrett, also qualified for the state finals. Ryan and Barrett did not show up for the final preliminary race.

lia thomas riley wins ncaa swimming championship

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tied for fifth in the 200-meter freestyle final at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

«Both guys (Athena Ryan and Lorelei Barrett) who qualified for the state championships in California girls’ high school track did not compete in the preliminaries today.

«Did you realize that you clearly have an unfair advantage? Or are you too optimistic?» Gaines wrote in a tweet.

Ryan rose from a sixth-place finish in a 1,600-meter race to runner-up position in the most recent meet in the high school girls’ category.

Ryan became a controversy lightning rod after bragging about improved runtimes.

«I didn’t expect that. I’m down like 17 seconds from my season best in the last two weeks,» Ryan told MileSplit after the race. «After last weekend, I didn’t think I’d be able to run under 5s again. I was just coming here trying to break five, glad I finished it.»

Riley Gaines in front of Congress

Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines spoke before Congress Tuesday about an incident that occurred on April 6, 2023, when she claims to have been held for ransom at San Francisco State University. (Homeland Security Subcommittee via YouTube)

Organized groups and protesters showed up at the athletics event to express their opposition. Eventually, at least one of the protesters was taken from the premises after they started yelling.

According to the California Interscholastic Federation’s «Gender Identity Participation» policy, transgender students may compete in sports and activities that are «consistent with their gender identity.»

A student-athlete’s eligibility must only be granted once and must not be renewed annually.

The California Interscholastic Federation is the governing body for high school athletics in the state. CIF’s Twitter bio states that the organization promotes «equity, quality, character and academic development.»


In March, World Athletics announced its decision to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s events internationally. Meanwhile, the NCAA is set to introduce new rules soon, one of which would require transgender athletes to undergo routine testing.