As Lia Thomas swims, the debate over transgender athletes swirls


USA Swimming said Thursday it is reevaluating its policy for transgender athletes at the elite level, which means the requirements for transgender swimmers may change in the coming weeks.

“A lot of policies are in flux,” said NCAA chief inclusion officer Amy Wilson. “It’s an ever-changing space.”

Underlying the darkness, Wilson added, is a lack of science to draw on, in part because there are so few transgender athletes among the nearly 500,000 NCAA athletes. (The NCAA wouldn’t say how many had applied for an exemption to take hormones that are otherwise banned substances.)

While there have been a growing number of transgender athletes transitioning while in college, those garnering the most attention (and criticism) are transgender women who compete in women’s events – and who win. These have been extremely rare: for example, Juniper Eastwood, who won running events for the University of Montana, and CeCe Telfer of Franklin Pierce University, who won the 2019 Division II National Championship in the 400 meter hurdles.

And now there’s Thomas, who has clocked better times this season than several college swimmers who competed in the Olympics last summer.

Thomas, 22, grew up in Austin, Texas as an accomplished swimmer. She took to the water around the time she entered kindergarten, eventually finishing sixth at the state high school championships, and followed her older brother to swim at Penn. Thomas gradually became one of the best swimmers in the Ivy League, finishing second in the men’s 500, 1000 and 1650 freestyle at the Ivy League Championships as a sophomore in 2019.

She did it while also in distress, she said in a podcast last month, telling swimming website Swimswam that she felt trapped in her own body.


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