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Penn's Lia Thomas during a meet with Yale and Dartmouth on Saturday. Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender woman who swims for the University of Pennsylvania, is dominating in the pool this season.

Why it matters: Thomas' record-breaking campaign comes amid a debate over transgender inclusion in sport — one that has become increasingly politicized as anti-trans legislation sweeps across the U.S.

Catch up quick: Thomas, assigned male at birth, competed on the men's team at Penn from 2017-20, though in 2018 she realized that she identified as a woman.

  • In May 2019, she began testosterone suppression therapy, and after the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season, she joined the women's team last fall as a fifth-year senior.
  • NCAA rules state that a trans woman can compete against women as long as she's undergone one year of testosterone suppression.

By the numbers: At one meet in early December, Thomas won the 200-yard free by seven seconds, the 500 free by 14 seconds and the 1,650 free by 38 seconds, setting two Ivy League records and posting the fastest time of the year among college women in the 200 and 500.

  • Of note: While Thomas' broken records have made news, her times relative to the women's field are generally comparable to what her times relative to the men's field had been.
  • Her best time in the 500 pre-transition (4:18.72) was 12 seconds off the men's record (4:06.32); now, her best time (4:34.06) is 10 seconds off the women's record (4:24.06), having lost 16 seconds post-transition.

Driving the news: Thomas won two races at her final home meet on Saturday. She also lost two to Yale's Iszac Henig, a transgender man who can compete against women because he hasn't begun hormone therapy.

Thomas is congratulated after winning the 200-yard freestyle event. Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

What they're saying: Thomas just wants to "continue to do the sport I love as my authentic self," she told SwimSwam last month.

  • "My mental health was not very good," she said of the 2018-19 season. "It was a lot of unease, basically just feeling trapped in my body."
  • Since transitioning, that's improved: "Being in a swimsuit 20 hours a week has helped me accept my body as it is [and] be comfortable in who I am."

The other side: Some believe Thomas holds an unfair advantage even after two-plus years of testosterone suppression.

  • "At stake here is the integrity of women's sports," a group of Penn swim parents wrote after that December meet. "The precedent being set ... is a direct threat to female athletes."
  • "I think the NCAA policy issued in 2011 was not really based much on scientific knowledge," one parent told WashPost. "So this is all about the rules. It's not really about Lia. She followed the rules."

What's next: Thomas, an Austin native, will be a favorite at next month's Ivy League championships, and she's already qualified for the NCAA championships in March.

Go deeper

CAA Icon: Nashville would back women's pro team

Maura Losch/Axios

There is support for Nashville to recruit a professional women's soccer or basketball team at a community and corporate level according to a new consultant's report released Wednesday.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker