EXCLUSIVE: ‘It’s the calm before the storm.’ Trans UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas and teammates set aside their differences to train for final home meet of the season following outcry over her record-breaking feats
- Lia Thomas, 22, and her UPenn teammates appeared on good terms on their trip to Stuart, Florida last week to train for their final NCAA home meet on Saturday
- The transgender swimmer sparked controversy after smashing several records as a newly-transitioned woman on the women’s team
- Thomas appeared to shrug off the discord as DailyMail.com spotted the swimmer and teammates at Sailfish Splash Waterpark – which hosts NCAA training over the winter
- The UPenn athletes were escorted to and from their hotel by security and a female guard kept a close eye on the twice-daily sessions
- UPenn’s final home meet of the season at home with Yale and Dartmouth will take place behind closed doors January 8 after college officials announced that only handful of spectators were allowed, citing Covid fears
- The swim event is the first since Thomas blew away the competition and shattered two national women’s records last month at the Zippy International in Akron, Ohio
- Thomas previously competed on UPenn men’s swim team for three years as Will before transitioning in 2019
Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and her UPenn teammates set aside their differences over the last week to train for their final home meet of the season behind a cloak of secrecy.
College officials hired security guards and urged student athletes to ditch their distinctive Quakers shirts and hats to avoid drawing attention to themselves as they jetted into Stuart, Florida last week.
The twice-daily winter practice sessions passed without incident but the 41-strong team remains bitterly divided over Thomas’s record shattering feats as a newly-transitioned female, according to insiders.
‘Everyone is doing their best to get along in difficult circumstances but this won’t suddenly go away,’ a parent told DailyMail.com. ‘It’s the calm before the storm.’
Smiling transgender swimmer Lia Thomas was seen training in Stuart, Florida, ahead of University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team’s final home meet of the season
Thomas, 22, drew media attention earlier this season after smashing several records as a newly-transitioned woman on the team
Thomas and her teammates appeared to set their differences aside amid the uproar over her dominance as they practiced at the Olympic-sized pool at Sailfish Splash Waterpark. ‘Everyone is doing their best to get along in difficult circumstances but this won’t suddenly go away,’ a parent told DailyMail.com
Thomas walked into the outdoors venue in silence but looked relaxed and at ease with her teammates as they stood around the pool chatting and sharing a picnic in the bleachers
Thomas came out as transgender in 2019 and under NCAA rules was eligible to switch from the men’s team to the women’s after taking a year of testosterone suppressants.
But the 22-year-old’s dominance has outraged some of her teammates and prompted the resignation of veteran USA Swimming official Cynthia Millen, who said it was grossly unfair for ‘biological men’ to compete with women.
UPenn’s final home event of the season will take place behind closed doors after college officials announced last week that all but a handful of spectators were banned for the January 8 meet with Yale and Dartmouth, citing Covid concerns.
DailyMail.com had revealed a day earlier that a number of Thomas’s teammates had considered boycotting the gala over her participation but were worried about being labeled transphobic and banned from the Ivy League championship in February.
‘How convenient that they have now avoided this potential conflict that they’re now aware was going to take place,’ a parent told DailyMail.com.
‘The parents were really amped up for this final home meet, the senior recognition, a chance to show glowing support for the team and for the girls. And now that opportunity is not going to be available.’
The team is practicing at the municipal aquatic center which hosts NCAA training while the slides and attractions are closed to the public over the winter
Saturday’s meet will be the first since Thomas blew away the competition and shattered two national women’s records last month at the Zippy International in Akron, Ohio
Thomas and her 41-strong team have also been assigned their own security detail amid the controversy and were told not to wear UPenn gear during their off-time in case they attract unwanted attention
Thomas has brushed off the backlash despite setting three school records and two national records during her senior year
Thomas appeared to shrug off the discord as exclusive DailyMail.com images captured her team being put through its paces at the Olympic-sized pool at Sailfish Splash Waterpark, a municipal aquatic center that hosts NCAA training while the slides and attractions are closed to the public over the winter.
The UPenn athletes were escorted to and from their hotel by security and a female guard kept a close eye on the twice-daily sessions.
Thomas was seen walking into the outdoors venue in silence but looked relaxed and at ease with her teammates as they stood around the pool chatting and sharing a picnic meal in the bleachers.
‘Lia has been with the team now for years as a training partner. Having someone who’s fast to train with is a good thing; it helps push them,’ said a parent.
‘It’s been a welcome distraction for the girls. There have been no incidents to speak of. It just shows, this is not a transphobic atmosphere. It never was.
‘But there are no rewards or prizes being given out in training – the issue we’ve been dealing with, about fairness, hasn’t gone away.’
Students were also urged not to wear UPenn gear during their off-time in case they attract unwanted attention, according to worried parents – who branded the ongoing controversy ‘insane’.
In an earlier interview, Thomas responded to the furor telling news site SwimSwam: ‘It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage with it at all, and so I don’t, and that’s all I’ll say on that’
UPenn’s final event of the season with Dartmouth and Yale will take place behind closed doors on January 8 after college officials cited Covid concerns
DailyMail.com observed a handful of athletes, including Thomas, wearing UPenn t-shirts to training, but the majority changed out of the distinctive red and blue Quakers gear after getting back to their accommodation.
‘Everybody is concerned about some kind of incident,’ one parent told DailyMail.com, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
‘My daughter will not be wearing her Penn uniform on the trip because she does not want to be hounded about the situation.’
‘The swimmers were told that some form of security detail would be accompanying them on their training trip in case something happens,’ another parent told DailyMail.com.
‘The girls were given special instructions to avoid wearing Penn attire because of the controversy. It’s insane. It’s the reason they went to this school, to compete for UPenn and be proud of that.
‘Once again, here the entire team has to make an accommodation for the NCAA for failing to address this properly.’
The UPenn athletes were escorted to and from their hotel by a two-car security detail
A handful of athletes, including Thomas, wore UPenn t-shirts to training, but the majority changed out of their distinctive red and blue Quakers gear soon after
One parent, who did not wish to be named, told DailyMail.com that the girls ‘were given special instructions to avoid wearing Penn attire because of the controversy’
Critics have railed against Thomas’s participation as a ‘biological male’ competing against women
Lia competed on the UPenn men’s swim team for three years as Will Thomas before transitioning
This weekend’s meet is the first since Thomas blew away the competition and shattered two national women’s records last month at the Zippy International in Akron, Ohio.
Such was her dominance in the 1,650-yard freestyle that second placed swimmer Anna Kalandadze, a UPenn teammate, finished 38 seconds behind her.
Before coming out as transgender Thomas swam for UPenn’s men team for three years before the 2020-21 season was cancelled due to the pandemic. She competed as a man as recently as November 2019.
In her senior year Thomas joined the women’s team after adhering to the NCAA’s Policy for Transgender Student-Athlete Participation which allows someone born male to participate as a woman after ‘completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.’
Despite setting three school records and two national records, Thomas shrugged off the furor in a recent interview, telling swimming news site SwimSwam: ‘It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage with it at all, and so I don’t, and that’s all I’ll say on that.’
Her teammates have been less accepting of Thomas’s post-transition feats, however, with two swimmers complaining anonymously to the media about a ‘lack of fairness’.
Thomas came out as transgender in 2019 and under NCAA rules was eligible to switch from the men’s team to the women’s after taking a year of testosterone suppressants
Thomas (pictured in 2016 and 2017, respectively) was a star swimmer in high school
UPenn women’s swimmers and divers relax at the beach in January 2020. Lia Thomas is circled
‘They’re having to go behind the blocks knowing no matter what, they do not have the chance to win. I think that it’s really getting to everyone,’ one told OutKick.
How Lia Thomas’s times stack up against her bests as a male swimmer at UPenn and NCAA women’s records
The current NCAA women’s records for those events are currently held by Olympic gold medalists. Missy Franklin holds the record for the 200 Free at 1:39:10. Katie Ledecky set the records for the 500 Free at 4:24:06 and the 1,650 Free at 15:03:31.
Thomas said her pre-transition times are not an accurate gauge for her ‘current ability’ but admitted that she did not train as often or as hard in her year off as she did when competing on the men’s team.
Days later, DailyMail.com learned that parents of about 10 swimmers on the team are demanding the NCAA change rules that have permitted Thomas to dominate.
‘At stake here is the integrity of women’s sports,’ they wrote in the letter sent to the NCAA and forwarded to the Ivy League and Penn officials.
‘The precedent being set – one in which women do not have a protected and equitable space to compete – is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport. What are the boundaries?
‘How is this in line with the NCAA’s commitment to providing a fair environment for student-athletes?’
Weeks later, Olympic swimming champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar declared in a column for DailyMail.com that it was not fair for biological women to have to compete against Thomas.
She likened it to racing against doped-up East Germans.
‘Trans women should compete with biological women, so long as they can demonstrate that they have lost their sex-linked, male-puberty advantage prior to competition in the women’s category,’ she wrote in the December 24 article.
‘Lia Thomas cannot make that demonstration. While she has apparently been complying with NCAA rules requiring hormone therapy for over two-and a-half years now, she is still competing with an unfair advantage.’
Other sports icons followed suit, expressing their support for Hogshead-Makar’s argument that the rules need to be changed.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova retweeted the article, writing, ‘A well-reasoned and fair take on trans women inclusion in women’s sports.’
Her one-time competitor Chris Evert retweeted Navratilova’s statement with the caption ‘I second that.’
Evert later added: ‘Science has proved from the onset of male puberty, mainly because of high testosterone levels, male bodies are faster, stronger, and have more endurance than female bodies.’
The NCAA had yet to respond to the parents’ letter, while the university sent a terse response, claiming the school is doing what it can to help student-athletes navigate Lia’s success, sharing a link to mental health services.
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