Lia Neal was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 13, 1995. She is of African-American and Chinese-American descent — Neal’s father, Rome, is African-American and her mother, Siu, is Chinese-American. Thanks to her mother, Neal is fluent in Cantonese. Neal began swimming at the age of 6 and two years later, she joined New York City’s Asphalt Green Swim Team and was soon awarded a Swim for the Future scholarship. The Swim for the Future scholarship was started in 2001 in memory of Asphalt Green masters swimmers Doug Irgang and Andrew Fisher who tragically died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to Asphalt Green’s website, the scholarship has allowed the New York City-based swim team to become the most diverse team in the United States.
As the second African-American female to make a US Olympic swim team, Lia is committed to bringing more diversity to the sport. She is part of USA Swimming’s Make a Splash initiative, inspiring kids to swim via Swim Brooklyn.
As one of the most coveted high school recruits, Neal chose to make the cross-country move to swim for Stanford University. Coach Greg Meehan dedicated the success the Stanford women’s team had starting in 2014, in part, to Lia deciding to give Stanford, and himself as a coach, a chance.
It didn’t take long for Lia to make her mark as a cardinal. At the 2014 NCAA’s, Neal finished 10th in the 50 free, second in the 100 free, and ninth in the 200 free individually. She gained her first NCAA Champion status as a member of the winning 400 medley relay and 400 free relay, and finished third on the 800 free relay and ninth on the 200 medley relay.
Neal returned her sophomore year to a sprint powerhouse of a school. Joined by one of America’s fastest sprinters now, Simone Manuel, Neal went on to finish second in the 100 free and third in the 200 free. The dynamic duo also lead Stanford to a win, and a new American record, in the 400 free relay. Lia also finished second on the 800 free and 200 free relay.
With Simone Manuel redshirting to focus on her Olympic training, Lia once again took the helm as Stanford’s top sprinter. She again aided in Stanford taking 2 national relay titles, this time in the 200 and 400 medley relays, which both broke American records. Individually at the NCAA championships, she placed 6th in the 50, 3rd in the 200, and 2nd in the 100.
Lia saved the best for last, capping her senior year off with not only 3 national relay titles, a PAC-12 team title, but also guiding the cardinal to an NCAA team title. At the NCAA’s, she went best times in the 50 (21.65, 9th) and the 100 (46.76, 4th).
National and International Competition
Neal excelled as an age group swimmer, competing at the 2008 US Olympic Trials in the 100 free at
the age of 13. She had qualified for those Olympic Trials when she had broken the 11-12 national age-group record in the 100 free.
She debuted on the international scene in 2010 at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Maui, Hawaii. Neal won gold medals as part of the 400 free, 800 free, and 400 medley relays. She also took home a silver medal in 100 free and a bronze medal in the 50 free.
At the 2011 World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru, Neal was a gold medalist in the 100 free and
a silver medalist in the 50 free. She also helped Team USA again to relay golds in the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays, and silver in the 4x100m medley relay.
2012 London Olympics
Neal qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games during the summer before her senior year of high school at Convent of the Sacred Heart. In London, the New Yorker took home her first Olympic medal when she won a bronze as part of the United States’ 400 free relay. She credits her tireless work ethic–attending every practice offered–for getting her to the Olympic level.
2015 World Championships/World University Games
At the 2015 World Championships, Lia Neal swam the 3rd leg (53.70) of the bronze winning 4×100 free relay for the USA. Since she was a relay only swimmer, she also got to represent the USA at the 2015 World University Games.
At the World University Games, Lia Neal again helped the USA to a medal in the 4x100m free relay, but this time it was gold.
2016 US Olympic Trials
Lia had a successful run at her 3rd Olympic trials, placing 4th in the 100m free (53.77) to qualify for
her 2nd consecutive Olympic team. She also competed in the 50, where she placed 7th (25.00).
2016 Rio Olympics
Lia again swam on the 4x100m free relay in Rio, and earned a silver medal for her efforts in the heats.
2017 US World Team Trials
Neal made the US World Team by finishing third in the 100m Free earning a spot on the 4X100m Free Relay Team. At those same championships she placed 3rd in the 50m free as well, just missing an individual roster spot by .03, but going a best time of 24.77.
2017 World Championships
Lia continued her string of international success by again swimming in the heats of the 4x100m free relay, leading off with a solid time of 53.94 and earning a gold medal after the finals relay at night touched the wall first. She also earned gold by swimming on the prelims relays in the 4×100 mixed free relay.
2018 Short Course World Championships
In Hangzhou, Neal was an integral part of team USA’s relays, earning 4 total medals. She swam on the prelims of the 4×50 free and 4×100 medley relays (which earned gold) as well as the 4×200 free relay, which earned silver. Neal swam in finals of the 4×100 free relay, which earned gold as well.