Right after the conclusion of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, Lia Neal had her sights set on Rio de Janeiro.
The then-17-year-old Fort Greene native had just earned a bronze medal as part of the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay, and she hadn’t even finished high school at that point.
On Aug. 6, Neal, whose family members are parishioners at St. Saviour parish, Park Slope, was part of the relay team that took home the silver medal in the same event.
As a two-time Olympian, the 21-year-old rising senior at Stanford University, Calif., had a much better idea of what to expect heading into this year’s trials and games.
Olympics in London and Rio
“It was very different going into both Olympics,” the graduate of Convent of the Sacred H.S., Manhattan, said. “In 2012, I was a high school student never having been on a national team before. The 2012 Olympic team was my first national team.
“This time around, I have a lot more experience. I have had three years of college training under my belt. I expected more of myself this time around than in 2012.”
In London, Neal set a personal best time in her 100-meter split at 53.65. She swam as the third leg on a team that included Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt.
As she was on the block recently in Rio during the preliminary swim, she said she felt like she slipped a bit upon diving slightly sideways into the pool.
However, she made up for it by working extra hard during the first 25 meters.
“Then it was over before I could even think,” she said.
Neal again set a new personal best time at 53.63, swimming as the second leg on a team featuring Amanda Weir, Schmitt and Katie Ledecky.
For the finals, Neal cheered on her teammates, as Ledecky joined Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil and Dana Vollmer in winning the silver medal and setting a new American record. Australia set a new world record to capture the gold.
As a member of the squad that swam in preliminaries, Neal also earned a silver medal.
Though she seemed a bit disappointed by just a slight improvement from 2012, 0.02 in swimming is a significant mark.
“It did reflect all the energy and commitment and work ethic that I put into this one,” she said.
Part of Swimming History
It was quite the ride for the U.S. swim team at these Olympic Games. Between Ledecky’s record-shattering performances and the continued dominance of Michael Phelps, Neal said she felt that she has become a part of swimming history by just being a member of the team.
“It’s a really great group that worked really cohesively together,” Neal said.
“We made for a really great team because we all helped each other in one way or another to perform the way that we did.
“We inspired each other, and that’s how we racked up all the medals, winning times and particularly impressive performances.”
Natural progression suggests that a bronze medal in 2012 and a silver medal in 2016 translates well into a gold medal in 2020, when the games will be played in Tokyo.
Discerning Quest for Gold
It’s much easier said than done however, so Neal will soon assess whether her quest for gold will continue.
“I think time will tell; I’m going to see where I am,” she said.
“After our college season in March, I’ll see how I’m feeling and where I’m at and will take it from there.”
Either way, she’s made her home borough of Brooklyn – and especially her home parish of St. Saviour – very proud.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.