- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2022

Collegiate swimming coaches took the unusual step of expanding the 2021-22 All-America awards on behalf of female athletes who missed cuts to Lia Thomas at the NCAA Division I women’s swimming championships.

The College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) announced this week that 79 women received first-team individual honors, including the University of Pennsylvania’s male-born Thomas, and 93 were awarded second-team honors.

Ordinarily, first-team awards go to the top eight swimmers in each event, while those finishing 9-16 receive second-team recognition, but this year, the ninth-place finishers made the first team and the 17th-place swimmers earned second-team status in races featuring Thomas.

CSCAA executive director Greg Earhart said that expanding the All-America awards was “the right thing to do.”

“Following the NCAA’s decision to not expand the field, the CSCAA determined that these specific individuals should still be recognized as All-Americans for their athletic achievements at the pinnacle event for college swimming & diving,” he told SwimSwam.

Thomas competed on the 2021-22 women’s team after undergoing at least a year of testosterone suppression as required by NCAA rules on transgender athletes, touching off a heated debate over fairness and inclusion in women’s collegiate sports.

“While the CSCAA isn’t in a position to award teams points, we felt [it] was simply the right thing to do,” Earhart said. “We continue to believe in the inclusive benefits of sport but think the NCAA missed an opportunity to lead the conversation towards a solution that includes a competitive playing field.”

A fifth-year senior who swam previously on the Penn men’s team, Thomas became the first male-born athlete to win an NCAA Division I women’s title at the championships held March 16-19 at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The swimmers who benefited from the All-America bump were listed by Swimming World.

“So that means in addition to the top 8 in the 100 free, 200 free and 50 free, Florida’s Tylor Mathieu is first team in the 500 after taking ninth in prelims, Virginia’s Reilly Tiltmann is first team in the 200 free after finishing ninth in prelims, and Cal’s Isabel Ivey was first-team in the 100 free after taking ninth in prelims,” Swimming World said in a Wednesday article.

Those earning second-team honors included Virginia Tech swimmer Reka Gyorgy, who missed the 500-yard freestyle consolation race by one spot. Thomas won the event.

“Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s Reka Gyorgy is second team in the 500 after taking 17th, with the same situation for Florida’s Ekaterina Nikonova in the 200 free and Texas A&M’s Chloe Stepanek in the 100 freestyle,” Swimming World said.

Gyorgy, a fifth-year senior, posted a statement after the championships saying that it “feels like that final spot was taken away from me because of the NCAA’s decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete.”

Texas swimmer Erica Sullivan, who placed third in the 500, defended Thomas in a March 18 op-ed in Newsweek, saying the Penn swimmer had been “unfairly targeted.”

“Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her,” Sullivan said. “Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time. And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity.”

Former USC head swimming coach Dave Salo, a member of the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame, characterized the CSCAA’s decision as a step in the right direction.

“I think that this at least acknowledges that the participation of Lia Thomas in the meet took away valid opportunities from other participants,” he said in an email. “It does not, however, acknowledge that a valid swimmer may have been kept out of the meet because of Lia‘s participation.”

Virginia’s Kate Douglass was named the CSCAA Division I Swimmer of the Year after setting U.S. records in her three victories in the 50-yard freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 breaststroke.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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