It’s never actually about women’s sports

The Washington Post ran an Katie Ledecky, a swimming champion. She looks impressive.

In truth, there’s no debate. The greatest D.C.-area athlete in history — by far — is Bethesda’s Katie Ledecky.

She is the greatest women’s swimmer in history — also not a subject for debate. She added to her legacy this past week at the world championships in Budapest, winning gold medals in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle. She added a fourth gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay, charging from behind on the third leg to give the United States the lead for good. The 200 is Ledecky’s “weakest” race, yet she produced the fastest split among the 32 swimmers competing in the relay final.

The article is all about her and her abilities and how successful she has been. Twitter addresses it a little differently.

On the one hand, there are the people who look at her and announce that she is trans. She isn’t.

Then there are the bigots who know she’s AFAB, but are so wedded to the idea of trans women’s inherent physical superiority that they’re sure she couldn’t compete against a “biological male”.

No, Lia Thomas (a trans woman) does not perform anywhere near the exceptionally high level of Katie Ledecky.

There is a lot of back and forth along these lines. There are apparently many ignorant “gender criticals” who are happy to embarrass themselves.

Katelyn Burns is collecting primo examples of this behavior.

These people are shameless idiots. The ones I feel sympathy for are Katie Ledecky, whose victories are being belittled by dumb ideologues, and Lia Thomas, whose abilities are respectable, but she has the pressure of being inappropriately compared to a world-class gold medalist.

Leave them alone, you pathetic wankers.


  1. cartomancer says

    Sadly we have this bollocks over here in the UK too. Headed at the moment by Nadine “asleep at the wheel” Dorries and her bizarre insistence that trans women be excluded from all sport because bigotry.

  2. raven says

    Instead of being concerned with who is Trans or not, they should be concerned with who is an idiotic troll…or not.

  3. whywhywhy says

    All top athletes are freaks. They are not normal, they are exceptional through their amazing feats. Take Michael Phelps the guy has long arms, long torso, short legs, webbed toes, amazing lung capacity, and a devotion to swimming and training that let all of that develop into a freak of nature in the pool. I am impressed by Ledecky’s prowess and accomplishments.

  4. PaulBC says

    Ledecky has been in the news since at least 2012 when she won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics at age 15. We used to get USA Swimming Splash magazine when my kids were swimming, and she has appeared on the cover more than once. I had to confirm this just now. Her name sounded familiar.

    She’s not as famous as Michael Phelps was (both from MD), but you’d think people could check before leaping to conclusions (uh, no I wouldn’t but maybe “wish” they would).

  5. microraptor says

    The overwhelming majority of people whom I’ve seen complaining about Lia Thomas don’t even follow women’s swimming (or women’s sports in general). They don’t know what her swimming scores were, or they think that the times she achieved while competing in the men’s division count toward her record in the women’s division or some other baloney like that.

  6. says

    Someone named Sean Skoog said “Last time I checked, Katie Ledecky is a biological woman.” Which leads me to ask: Who the fuck is Sean Skoog, and what, exactly, did he “check” to determine Ledecky’s gender?

  7. says

    This transphobic nonsense is leading to policies that could easily destroy women’s sports for at least a generation. Any cis girl who didn’t win a competition would be able to demand that every girl who beat her undergo a panty inspection and a chromosome test to prove they’re “real girls.” And trust me, this won’t just happen to actual trans girls; it’ll happen to ANY girl who shows ANY sign of ANY qualities one might deem “mannish.” Like, maybe, being a tomboy, a lesbian, or other non-stereotypically-feminine characteristics. Or, maybe, just being “mannish” enough to win a race against other “proper” girls. And the result of that will be that the best female athletes will be shot down by sore losers on a witch-hunt, and women’s sports (in America at least) will become a bad joke.

  8. StevoR says

    We’ve been here (~ish) before folks.

    Anyone else remember the debates over Castor* Caster Semenya :

    (Yeah, I know wikipedia has its drawbacks but i still like it at least as an initial jumping off point source.)

    Or in tennis Amélie Mauresmo :

    Among others :

    Not that it makes things any easier or much better I guess.. Hoped that we’d have learnt to do and think better by now. MLK’s long moral arc of history and all.. Still here we are – and where from here?

    .* Castor with an ‘o’ being the sextuple star system, Alpha Geminorum named after one of the mythological Dioscuri (twins -Cator & Pollux) who were, if memory serves, born from an egg laid by Leda after she was seduced by teh King God Zeus in the form of a swan with their sisters being Klytemnestra and Helen of Troy / Sparta.

  9. says

    The Williams sisters have caught a lot of this kind of shit. It’s really disgusting. And then there were all the cold war accusations of steroid abuse in female olympic athletes.

    Basically, the idea of sports is to let humans express their greatness and beauty and athletics, but the regressive chud contingent feels it needs to try to come in and shit all over things. Unfortunately, they have succeeded in making me uninterested in most sports. I wish there was some way to banish such toxic people from civilization entirely.

  10. says

    @6 “what, exactly, did he “check” to determine Ledecky’s gender?”

    The same thing that PZ checked when he too correctly asserted that Ledecky isn’t trans, silly … the public information.

    Now how about getting a clue and calling out the bigoted trolls instead of the person calling out the bigoted trolls, just because, apparently, that person has a funny name.

  11. says


    There was and still is a lot of steroid abuse in Russian Olympic athletes of all genders … they had a fucking drug factory and secret tunnels at the Olympics.

  12. StevoR says

    @8. Raging Bee : Not just in America. Dunno if its exclusive to the Murdochcracies although Rupert’s malignant media empire definitely has a lot to answer for here. See :


    Incidentally, anyone else see or remember the movie about a trans kickboxer / Muay Thai fighter I sa wyears ago? pretty sure it was this one :

    But thought I recalled the title as Fearless instead?

  13. StevoR says

    @12. Jim Balter : & East German and other Soviet bloc one’s back in the day (1980’s ish) too. Remember some pretty transphobic old jokes about them at the time.. on a comic’s parodying the local sports commentator’s on tape cassette.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    The sports victories of the GDR were bought at the expense of the health of the athletes, who were forced to eat a shitload of experimental pills all of which are forbidden today.

  15. says

    There was and still is a lot of steroid abuse in Russian Olympic athletes of all genders …

    But it doesn’t change your gender – that’s the point. Saying a ‘roided up female athlete is a man is wrong. Sad I have to explain that to you.

  16. says

    marner @7: So far, none of the articles I’ve seen about the FINA decision show any reference to any sort of studies or other information showing consistent disparities between trans and cis women athletes. The same repeated mention of Lia Thomas, of course, but no reference to any larger sample of transwomen athletes. Has anyone else found any such information?

  17. petesh says

    Ledecky has been swimming since she was six and broke all kinds of high-school, Olympic and world records, in a sport where drug testing is mandatory, girls share dressing rooms, competitors wear skin-tight clothing, etc etc … why would a company that the paragon of all virtue on this and several other planets says he wants to take over disseminate this shit? Don’t all shout at once.

  18. Larry says


    I wouldn’t call top athletes freaks any more than I’d call Einstein a freak or Yoyo Ma or Rembrandt. They happen to exist or did exist much further out the tail of the bell curve, some times by so much, they may scarcely seem to be human, but they are. They’re more like winners of the gene pool lottery who developed that gift through incomprehensibly hard work.

  19. marner says

    Raging Bee @19
    There was a small study of 46 US military transwomen that suggests they retain some advantages for a longer period of time after hormone therapy than previously thought, but nothing I’ve seen to change my opinion that excluding transwomen is a solution in search of a problem.

  20. says

    @20: Latest from PinkNews:

    Polish court rules barbaric ‘LGBT-free zones’ must be abolished

    Oh no, now Russia’s gotta invade Poland too! #Bone4Tuna using the Red Army to “save” people from Pride parades…

  21. says

    At the top levels of sport, the advantages provided by the on average marginal musculoskeletal capacity difference between the Y-bearing and non-Y-bearing populations are:

    (1) Almost entirely negated once one controls for height and mass and demands that all measures be at equal height and mass; and

    (2) Submerged within mental and skill factors. In the hypothetical battle in the pool between Lia Thomas and Katy Ledecky, it’s going to be Ledecky’s experience, technique, and above all competitive intent that determine the “victor.”

    And it’s really, really ridiculous trying to objectively determine who’s “the very best” among billions of living individuals in the first place, let alone historically when they can’t compete against each other in identical conditions with identical preparation.† It’s even ridiculous when determining, say, the county golf champion when one competitor was “born differently” among elite athletes — if any county golf championship includes such. I have yet to see, or see verified evidence of, a determinative difference inside the skull.

    † So, if one hypothetically dropped 2019 Alex Morgan into the 1999 US World-Cup-Winning side in place of Cindy Parlow, who’s objectively superior? (Hint: It’s a team game.)

  22. Deepak Shetty says

    It was always predictable that the bigots who hate trans people were going to go after the more masculine looking women. Quite an own goal by the feminists who are anti trans-women.

  23. dangerousbeans says

    step 1: deny rights to trans women
    step 2: define women who don’t meet your standards of femininity as trans
    step 3…

    it’s almost like it’s misogyny all the way down

  24. Freemage says

    @11: Maybe PZ should’ve done some better checking of that public information….

    These are Lia Thomas’ records in the Penn State Women’s Short Course (25m long pool)
    100 Free 47.63 Lia Thomas 2022
    200 Free 1:41.93 Lia Thomas 2021
    500 Free 4:34.06 Lia Thomas 2021
    1000 Free 9:35.96 Lia Thomas 2021
    1650 Free 15:59.71 Lia Thomas 2021

    Now, finding an apples-to-apples comparison was tricky–most of Ledecky’s best times are for 50m pools. But there are a couple of short-course swim times there, too. Of these, only one is also the same length–the Women’s 200 Freestyle. There, her personal best time is… 1.53.83. That’s a full 11 seconds and change behind Lia’s.

    Given the tight margins of swim meets involving top athletes, that would, indeed, count as “smoking” Ledecky in a head-to-head match. And that time was as a trans woman.

    Sources are important, so:
    Thomas’ times:
    Ledecky’s times:

  25. wzrd1 says

    Raging Bee @8, already happens. I’m aware of two women who were awarded winners in competitions that had the deluxe genital inspection and blood testing, being disqualified because their testosterone levels were higher than the Olympic committee arbitrarily ruled.
    Both are female under any metric one could rationally or arbitrarily choose, just having elevated testosterone levels due to gynecological causes.

    Frankly, it all comes down to profit. Those corporations don’t like women with muscles and performance in a sport that’d make Bob Buttermuscles feel inadequate. Especially when one factors trying to sell products via ads of women in swimsuits.

  26. says

    “And then there were all the cold war accusations of steroid abuse in female olympic athletes.”

    Yes, accurate accusations (but, as I noted, these were not limited to females) … which are different from inaccurate accusations that women are men, which also occurred. A pity that you are too stupid and dishonest to distinguish between the two.

  27. says

    “All that effort to avoid “trans”.”

    It’s not avoidance–at least not in the case of someone like “Sean Skoog”–it is simply someone who isn’t politically up to date–not woke, in its correct non-pejorative sense. Viewing such people as the enemy is a great way to remain forever marginalized.

  28. says

    “why would a company that the paragon of all virtue on this and several other planets says he wants to take over disseminate this shit?”

    Are you under the impression that Twitter the company originates the content of tweets?

    You would make more sense to blame PZ for “disseminating” it, but that would also be stupid.

  29. says

    “I wouldn’t call top athletes freaks any more than I’d call Einstein a freak or Yoyo Ma or Rembrandt. ”

    Back when I was a dope smoking hippie in the 60s we called ourselves freaks … like the center of the political spectrum, the center of the bell curve is highly overrated.

  30. says

    @29 FreeMage

    “Given the tight margins of swim meets involving top athletes, that would, indeed, count as “smoking” Ledecky in a head-to-head match.”

    Cherry picking:

    500-yard freestyle
    Katie Ladeckie: 4:24.06 (world record)
    Lia Thomas: 4:33.24

    The fact is that these are both very strong women swimmers, and I think PZ goes astray when he writes “being inappropriately compared to a world-class gold medalist” … there’s nothing inappropriate about comparing their times. What is inappropriate is using such comparisons as fodder for anti-trans bigotry, a basis for excluding trans people from competitive sports, etc.

  31. says

    Meaty article:

    “Critics accuse trans swimming star Lia Thomas of having an unfair advantage. The data tells a different story”

    “Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and to be ourselves,” Ms Thomas told Good Morning America. “Transition to get an advantage is not something that factors into our decisions.”

  32. rorschach says

    Lauren Jackson should never be allowed to play Women’s Basketball, she’s extremely tall, with wide strong shoulders, it’s just not fair.
    Lionel Messi should only play women’s soccer, he’s small, has no muscles to speak of and it’s just not ok how he can just cruise past big manly defenders.
    I can go on. But you get the point.

  33. DanDare says

    Commercial sports are dominated by hard winner focus, rather than the joy of the performance.
    Its why sport is divided into male and female groupings so there can be one best male and one best female rather than, as many seem to believe, only a best male.
    There is no reason sport can’t be broken into performance bands, with no other restriction. However commercially the lower bands would attract fewer viewers because they are “not as good”.

  34. Owlmirror says

    A while back someone pointed out just comparing times, even when all other factors are equal, still doesn’t mean that the winner of some specific competition on one specific date will repeat that exact performance at some other date against a similarly-ranked athlete . After all, athletes don’t necessarily repeat their own best times, when times are repeatedly recorded. There’s still an element of chance to any race.

    There’s sometimes the boast “On my worst day, I could still beat you on your best day”, but for athletes whose ranks are so close to each other, and whose race times are mere seconds apart, there is no such surety.