Brooklyn’s Neal shines in Rio.

The Brooklyn swim­mer played a cru­cial role in the team’s sil­ver ef­fort.

Metro USA (New York) - - Front Page - JA­SON DEVANEY @Ja­son_De­vaney1 sports@metro.us

Amid the 33 medals Amer­i­can swim­mers won at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last week was the women’s 4x100-me­ter freestyle re­lay team’s sil­ver cap­tured on the open­ing night of com­pe­ti­tion.

It was USA Swim­ming’s third medal in Rio and it capped a night that also in­cluded sil­vers in the men’s (Chase Kal­isz) and women’s (Maya DiRado) 400-me­ter IM races.

Brooklyn na­tive Lia Neal played a cru­cial role in the Amer­i­cans’ ef­fort to earn sil­ver in that re­lay.

On Aug. 6, less than 18 hours af­ter the Rio Games were of­fi­cially opened at Mara­canã Sta­dium, Neal swam in the pre­lim­i­nary round of the women’s 4x100-me­ter freestyle re­lay. The Amer­i­can squad was in the sec­ond of two heats and was com­prised of Amanda Weir, Neal, Al­li­son Schmitt, and Katie Ledecky.

With Neal’s as­sis­tance, the fast four­some touched the wall sec­ond in its heat and en­tered the fi­nals with the sec­ond fastest pre­lim time, giv­ing them one of the two mid­dle lanes in that evening’s fi­nal.

“Ob­vi­ously it’s al­ways an honor to rep­re­sent Team USA, and I feel like the mes­sage of hav­ing an en­tire coun­try be­hind us, hav­ing so many peo­ple sup­port us — more peo­ple than we know — has re­ally been drilled into our heads,” Neal said dur­ing a USA Swim­ming in­ter­view last week. “That re­ally makes me more ap­pre­cia­tive of this op­por­tu­nity.”

Af­ter Weir gave the Amer­i­cans a half-sec­ond lead fol­low­ing the open­ing leg in the pre­lims, Neal swam her lap in 53.63 sec­onds and left Schmitt with a slight ad­van­tage head­ing into the sec­ond half of the race. The Aus­tralians proved too strong and were the fastest to the wall, 3:32.39 to 3:33.59.

In the fi­nal later that night, Aus­tralia nipped the Amer­i­cans (Ledecky, Si­mone Manuel, Dana Vollmer, and Abbey Weitzeil) for gold with an im­pres­sive world-record swim of 3:30.65.

For Neal, how­ever, earning a sil­ver medal was a step up from the bronze medal she took home from London four years ago in the same event.

“I re­mem­ber in London, I was more ex­cited than ner­vous to swim,” Neal said. “This time when I was standing be­hind the blocks, I said, ‘I’m a lit­tle ner­vous.’ But also just as ex­cited to swim as I was in London.”

The U.S. swim­ming team dom­i­nated the open­ing week of the Olympics in Rio, tak­ing nearly two dozen more medals than Aus­tralia, the sec­ond­placed team in the medal tally with 10. In­cluded in the Amer­i­cans’ haul were 16 golds, eight sil­vers, and nine bronzes.

Con­nor Jaeger, an­other U.S. swim­mer from the New York City area, also had a strong meet for the Amer­i­cans. Hail­ing from Fair Haven, New Jersey, on the north­ern reaches of the shore, Jaeger opened his meet on the first day of com­pe­ti­tion with a fifth­place fin­ish in the 400-me­ter freestyle and closed it on Satur­day, the fi­nal day of pool swim­ming events, with a sil­ver medal in the 1,500 me­ters — swim­ming’s ver­sion of the mile.

The open­ing-day re­lay was Neal’s only swim in Rio, so she spent the rest of the week in the stands cheer­ing for her team­mates — and sub­se­quently los­ing her voice.

“It’s so fun to be on the other side of it,” she said.

GETTY IM­AGES

Lia Neal, left, and the U.S. women’s swim team pre­pare for com­pe­ti­tion in Rio.

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