U.S.A. Swimming said on Thursday that it was re-evaluating its policy for transgender athletes at the elite level, meaning the requirements for transgender swimmers could change in the coming weeks.
“Many of the policies are in flux,” said Amy Wilson, the N.C.A.A.’s managing director of inclusion. “It’s a continually evolving space.”
Underpinning the murkiness, Wilson added, is a lack of science to lean on, in part because there are so few transgender athletes among the nearly 500,000 N.C.A.A. athletes. (The N.C.A.A. would not say how many had applied for an exemption to take hormones that are otherwise banned substances.)
While there have been an increasing number of transgender athletes who have transitioned while in college, the ones who generate the most attention (and criticism) are transgender women who compete in women’s events — and who win. Those have been exceedingly 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 is Thomas, who has turned in better times this season than several college swimmers who raced in last summer’s Olympics.
Thomas, 22, grew up in Austin, Texas, as an accomplished swimmer. She took to the water about the time she entered kindergarten, eventually finishing sixth in the state high school championships, and followed her older brother to swim at Penn. Thomas gradually emerged as one of the Ivy League’s best swimmers, finishing second in the men’s 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle at the Ivy League championships as a sophomore in 2019.
She did this while also distressed, she said last month in a podcast, telling the swimming website Swimswam that she felt trapped in her own body.