UPenn has named Thomas, 22, as one of two students it has nominated for the National College Athletics’ Association’s Woman (NCAA) of the Year Award.
The college’s other nominee is Russian tennis player Luliia Bryzgalova.
Each school is allowed two nominations as long as one of the athletes is an international student or a person of color and both must be graduating. The winner will be announced at an NCAA event in San Antonio, Texas, in January 2023.
Thomas, 22, made headlines at the beginning of swim season after parents and college swimming enthusiasts blanched at a transgender woman competing in women’s sports.
They say she has considerable biological advantages over rival swimmers born female.
And competitive swimming body FINA issuing staunch new guidelines that effectively ban trans female swimmers as a result of the controversy that Thomas triggered.
But UPenn has plowed on with its nomination of Thomas regardless, despite frequent condemnation from fellow athletes and their families over her success.
‘Shame on them for nominating Lia Thomas,’ a conservative college organization Young America’s Foundation wrote on Twitter. ‘UPenn must have forgotten that in order to qualify for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, one must actually be a woman.
The award was established in 1991 and ‘recognizes female student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community.’
Although Thomas placed high on the leaderboard throughout the swim season, she only won the 500-yard freestyle at the championships.
Analysis subsequently uncovered suggested that Thomas was deliberately suppressing her performance to avoid a clean sweep of wins that would have further inflamed allegations of unfairness.
Throughout the season, many called for Thomas’ removal from the team, including from some of her teammates.
UPenn swimmers were reportedly told by the college that ‘Lia’s swimming is a non-negotiable.’
One anonymous student also said that the college was so determined to protect Lia because she helps them score points over other schools. Lia’s performance helped the team move seven places up the leaderboard from 27th in 2019 to 20th in 2021.
‘Lia obviously helps us do better. She is swimming really fast. Her performance helps the UPenn swim team. The feeling of winning doesn’t feel as good anymore because it feels tainted,’ she said.
Earlier this year, Thomas also expressed a desire to be an Olympian.
In an interview with Good Morning America, she admitted she is ‘no medical expert’ but she said some cisgender females have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet and are taller than their competitors – so why should she banned when they aren’t.
‘I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself,’ she said. ‘I intend to keep swimming … It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through.’
She also said anyone who says she isn’t allowed to compete as a woman is transphobic, regardless of whether or not they support her right to transition.
‘You can’t go halfway and be like “I support trans people but only to a certain point. If you support transwomen and they’ve met all the N.C.A.A. requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that.
‘Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport,’ she said.
However, las month, FINA – swimming’s governing body – banned transgender athletes from elite events.
Athletes would have to have transitioned before the age of 12 to compete.
FINA also proposed an ‘open’ section for transgender athletes to compete in.