By Ed Diokno
Lia Neal, who won a silver medal as a member of the U.S. 4×100 freestyle relay team, has been prolific on social media, especially on Youtube, giving us a glimpse of what an Olympic athlete’s life is like outside of the arena – or in her case – outside the water.
As you can see, below, it is not all a life of glitz and glamor. Aside from the men’s and women’s basketball team who are housed on a cruise ship, athletes are placed in barely furnished apartments ” during the Olympics which looks more like a locker room with beds.
“(All the Team USA athletes} live in the same building and as far as we’re concerned, we have everything we need. We have so many resources – we brought our own I.T. guy and we have two maintenance people that we flew out here just to take care of us. So it’s been great for us. Living hasn’t been a hassle at all here because we’ve been taken care of.”
Not surprising, Simone Manuel is among Lia’s BFF’s. When the teammates are not competing for the U.S., they swim for Stanford University and they get to know the world caliber swimmers in the PAC12, many of whom are on the Olympic swim team in Rio. They are constantly being sought for interviews by the multitudes of media from around the world at the Rio Games.
The significance of Manuel’s historic feat, becoming the first African American woman swimmer to win an individual gold medal, is not lost on Neal, who can count Chinese and African bloodlines in her own heritage. Her mother made sure that Manuel is also fluent in Cantonese. She said the constant questions about being a black swimmer can be difficult, “but I think that’s just what comes with the territory of making history. You’re going to be faced with the question a lot, because it’s so new,” she said before Manuel’s gold-medal race.
The Stanford teammates are articulate and nimble in their handling of the many media requirements place on the athletes and great representatives of the United States. Below, the BFF’s go to a press conference. “You see athletes everywhere but the dining hall is the premiere spot to really people watch,” she told Cosmopolitan. “Everyone has to go through the dining hall; it’s one of the coolest places in the village, if not the coolest. It’s massive. You’re just sitting down, watching the world’s best athletes walk by.”
At the age of 17, Neal went to the Olympics in London and earned a bronze medal as part of the 4x100m relay team. This time, four years older, a little more mature, and no longer a naive teenager.
“London was such a blur for me because I was just so young. I didn’t know what to expect. I had a lot of fun, and I was like, How will anything ever top that?! But I’ve had so much fun this time around too! I think just being older has allowed me to form more bonds with the team. I’ve just realized how great everyone is – this team really melds together well.”
“The first day, we saw the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Not only was I starstruck, but I was sitting with the rest of our swim team and everyone is like, ‘Oh, my god, there they are! They’re so cute! They’re smaller in person!'”
The Brooklyn-born Neal took a year off of school to prepare for the Olympics so this fall it will be back to the books where she will be in her senior year.