Seventeen-year-old Lia Neal earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team's 400 freestyle relay team on Saturday night, when she came in fourth in the 100-meter freestyle finals. Her thoughts about being the second African-American woman in her sport to represent the United States in the games: "It's a pretty big title" and "really … cool," she told the Associated Press.
Lia, who is also half Chinese, comes after the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team, Maritza Correia, who was a silver medalist in the 4 x 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.
Read more at the Washington Post.