ABOVE PHOTO: Lia Neal, from left, Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin and Jessica Hardy pose during the medal ceremony for the women’s 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials on Saturday, June 30, 2012, in Omaha, Neb.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Lia Neal showed that Olympic swimmers don’t necessarily have to come from California, Florida or any other warm-weather state.
She became the pride of New York City on Saturday night at the trials when she came in fourth in the 100-meter freestyle finals. Her finish gave her a spot on the 400 freestyle relay team.
The 17-year-old Neal also became the second African American woman to make a U.S. Olympic swim team.
“It’s a pretty big title,” said Neal, who is half-African American, half-Chinese.
PHOTO: Mr. Jones goes to london–Cullen Jones reacts after winning the men’s 50-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, July 1, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. At left is Matt Grevers. Jones will be part of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team in London.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
The first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team was Maritza Correia, a silver medalist in the 4×100 freestyle relay in 2004.
“I definitely knew about Maritza Correia being the first one,” Neal said. “I never thought about me being the second one going into the race, but I guess that’s really a cool title to have.”
Neal, gold medalist in the 100 freestyle at the World Junior Championships, competed in the trials when she was 13 but didn’t come close to making it out of prelims in the 50 and 100 free.
She sneaked into the 100 finals with an eighth-place finish in Friday’s semifinals, at 54.60 seconds. She clocked a 54.33 on Saturday, behind Jessica Hardy, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt.
“Those last few strokes were really tough,” Neal said through tears of joy. “I felt at that point I was just flailing my arms, doing whatever I could to get to the wall. When I first saw my time, I was in complete shock. It’s crazy.”
Neal, who lives in Brooklyn, started taking swimming lessons with friends when she was 6. She showed promise, and a swim mom recommended when she was 8 that she try out for a swim team. She’s been training ever since with Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
“Actually, not many people know about Asphalt Green,” she said. “It’s one of the most beautiful pools in New York City. I think swimming is becoming a bigger and bigger thing in the city.”
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