Post fabricates swim race between Riley Gaines, Lia Thomas in Olympic qualifier | Fact check

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The claim: Riley Gaines defeated Lia Thomas in an Olympic swimming qualifying race

A Jan. 15 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) shows side-by-side photos of former collegiate swimmers Riley Gaines and Lia Thomas.

“Breaking: Riley Gaines Did The Impossible She Beated (sic) Lia Thomas In Olympic Qualifier,” the caption reads.

Many commenters treated it as legitimate news.

“So proud of this real woman summiting her unclimbable mountain! Great job!!!” one wrote.

“Amazing. What an amazing achievement. I have watched this story from across the pond. Onward to Paris!” wrote another.

It was shared more than 700 times in a week.

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Our rating: Satire

Neither Thomas nor Gaines has swum in a competitive race since 2022, and neither qualified for the June event where the U.S. Olympic team qualifier will be set. A self-described satirical account posted the claim.

Claim posted by account where ‘nothing' is real

Thomas became the first transgender athlete to claim a national title at the NCAA’s top level when she won the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the Division I championship in 2022. She and Gaines – who criticized the decision to allow Thomas to compete against her – became linked when they tied for fifth place in another event at that meet. Gaines has become a vocal opponent of transgender women participating in women’s sports.

Fact check: NCAA isn't giving Lia Thomas' medals to Riley Gaines; that's satire

But the claim that Gaines defeated Thomas in an Olympic qualifying race is false. It was posted by an account that describes its content as satire, stating in its bio that “nothing on this page is real."

Neither Gaines nor Thomas has swum in a competitive race since the 2022 NCAA Championship, according to the Swimcloud database of race results. They tied for fifth in the women’s 200-yard freestyle, with Thomas swimming for the University of Pennsylvania and Gaines representing the University of Kentucky.

Neither appears among the more than 700 swimmers who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team trials, according to a list published Jan. 15 by SwimSwam magazine. The trials, scheduled for June in Indianapolis, will set the roster of swimmers who will represent the U.S. in the Paris Games that begin in July. Swimmers qualify for the trials by meeting specific time standards in their respective events between Nov. 30, 2022, and May 30.

The story linked in the comments purports to quote Gaines speaking at a post-race news conference. But it does not include details about the competition, such as the date, the location or the race’s specific distance and stroke. Not only does the quote from Gaines not appear in any legitimate news reports from media outlets that would have covered such a race, there are no credible reports that it happened at all.

USA TODAY has debunked several false claims about Thomas and Gaines, including assertions that the NCAA stripped Thomas of her title and that Gaines was awarded $1.2 million and a guaranteed berth in the 2024 championship.

USA TODAY reached out to Gaines, Thomas and the social media user who shared the post but did not immediately receive responses.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Swimcloud, accessed Jan. 22, Riley Gaines

  • Swimcloud, accessed Jan. 22, Lia Thomas

  • SwimSwam, Jan. 15, 743 swimmers have qualified for the 2024 U.S. Olympic trials

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Riley Gaines didn't race transgender swimmer in qualifier | Fact check