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UPenn nominates transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as 2022 'Woman of the Year'

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Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Polarizing transgender swimmer Lia Thomas was nominated for the 2022 "Woman of the Year" award by the University of Pennsylvania. The NCAA made the controversial announcement on Thursday.

The NCAA noted that the Woman of the Year award was established in 1991 and "honors the academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes from all three divisions."

The NCAA does not specify that one must, in fact, be a biological female to be nominated for the Woman of the Year award, but does note that candidates must be eligible "female student-athletes."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association only states that "[to] be eligible, a nominee must have competed and earned a varsity letter in an NCAA-sponsored sport and must have earned her undergraduate degree by Summer 2022."

In 2022, NCAA member schools nominated 577 graduating female student-athletes for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.

Schools may nominate up to two female student-athletes, but only if "at least one of them is an international student-athlete or student-athlete of color."

The University of Pennsylvania only nominated Thomas for the NCAA Woman of the Year award in the category of swimming and diving. UPenn nominated one other female student-athlete: tennis player Iuliia Bryzgalova.

The nominees are whittled down to nine candidates, then the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will select the NCAA Woman of the Year – who will be named this fall.

Thomas – a biological male – had ranked as the 462nd-best male swimmer. After transitioning, Thomas skyrocketed to the No. 1-ranked female collegiate swimmer in the country while smashing several records along the way.

Doctors have argued that biological male athletes have a definite advantage over female counterparts.

Last month, FINA – the international governing body for swimming competitions – approved new restrictions to prohibit transgender swimmers from competing against women in elite events unless they have completed their transition by the age of 12.

Scientists stated in the FINA report, "Biological sex is a key determinant of athletic performance, with males outperforming females in sports (including Aquatics sports) that are primarily determined by neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory function, and anthropometrics including body and limb size."

In January, the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League broadcast their support of Thomas' competing against biological women.

In February, 16 anonymous UPenn swimmers penned a letter to the school and the Ivy League calling for Thomas to be barred from competition – citing a biological advantage.

In May, Thomas declared that she would keep swimming despite the backlash and has a goal to swim at the Olympic trials.

Earlier this year, USA Today nominated Admiral Rachel Levine as one of the publication's "Women of the Year." Levine – who serves as the assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – is a biological man who transitioned.

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