Ipswich swimmer Leah Neale celebrates her 24th birthday in Bali last year after sharing in another international success. She has a renewed focus for 2021.
Ipswich swimmer Leah Neale celebrates her 24th birthday in Bali last year after sharing in another international success. She has a renewed focus for 2021.

Tokyo Olympics, returning home keep Leah focused in the pool

ENJOYING a short break, Ipswich swimmer Leah Neale will step up her bid for the Tokyo Olympics in the new year.

After being part of a disrupted 2020 like so many elite athletes, Neale is feeling more settled after a major change in recent months.

She has finished her University of Sunshine Coast (USC) degree and switched from former coach Chris Mooney to working with Brisbane Aquatic Centre high performance mentor Vince Raleigh.

That coincides with Neale returning to her Ipswich base after six years studying Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Sunshine Coast where she was part of the USC Spartans swimming squad.

Training was shut down from March to mid-May due to COVID.

"When we were able to get back in the pool, I pretty much decided that I wanted to relocate,'' Neale said.

"I needed a change of scenery and change of environment.''

The 2016 Rio Olympic silver medallist is focusing on contesting the Olympic trials in June, before the rescheduled Games are staged in Tokyo.

Neale, 25, was glad to be back in the water at the recent Queensland championships after having no competition for months.

"It was probably like the major meet for the year,'' the former St Mary's College student said.

"It was kind of just trying to put down some good times and practice race plans and all that sort of stuff again because it had been such a long time since we raced at a higher standard.''

Neale swam in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle at Chandler.

"I was pretty happy with the 200 there,'' she said, having finished second (1.59.76) to rising star Ariane Titmus (1.58.49).

Neale has contested the state titles since 2005.

Leah Neale and mum Karen. Picture: Cordell Richardson
Leah Neale and mum Karen. Picture: Cordell Richardson

Prior to the COVID-enforced lockdown, Neale was part of the Australian Dolphins 4x200m freestyle team that won gold and set a world record at the 2019 World Long Course Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Neale swam in the heat, having been a member of successful Aussie relays teams for a number of years.

She had won her first Olympic medal in Rio and savoured a relay gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.

The former CYMS-St Edmund's College swimmer also has bronze medals from the 2017 World Long Course championships in Budapest and the 2014 World Shortcourse championships in Doha.

She hopes to work in the physiotherapy area when she finishes her swimming career.

But with a full set of medals and the prospect of a second Olympics, she couldn't retire just yet.

"I couldn't think about stopping with the Olympics around the corner,'' Neale said.

"I think I would hate myself for not giving it a go.''

Well-travelled Ipswich swimmer Leah Neale relaxes at her family home. Picture: Rob Williams
Well-travelled Ipswich swimmer Leah Neale relaxes at her family home. Picture: Rob Williams

As a junior, Neale regularly dominated in a range of events at state and national championships. A junior highlight was winning nine medals on a 2010 Trans-Tasman tour to New Zealand.

But her crowning moment was sharing in Australia's 4x200m freestyle relay silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It was a magic moment for Ipswich, that came after Neale celebrated her 21st birthday preparing for her Olympic debut.

She has represented Australia in countries around the world including Russia, the United States, New Zealand, Isle of Man, China, Brazil and most recently South Korea.

"It was different. The whole set-up was pretty good,'' she said of the 2019 World Long Course Championshps.

During the pool shutdown that followed, Neale have to find other ways to keep fit, including working in a makeshift gym, cycling and running.

Knowing the Tokyo Olympics trials are scheduled for Adelaide next year has kept Neale focused.

She is pleased to have joined Raleigh, knowing him from previous national team trips.

"It's been really good. I'm pretty happy with how I'm going so far,'' she said.

"It's more getting fitness back and finetuning a few things with my stroke.

"He's a pretty good coach. He's had quite a bit of success in the past.''

Raleigh, a former Nudgee College school teacher, has coached a number of Aussie swimmers to Olympic medals.

They include Brenton Rickard who set a world record in winning gold in the 100m breaststroke at the Rome World Championships.

Raleigh was a coach at the Australian Institute of Sport before taking on the role of High Performance Youth coach. He has worked withi Australian teams since 1993.

Neale was the first 15 year old swimmer in Australia to go under two minutes at the national age championships in 2011.

The same year, she also broke a 22-year-old record of swim legend Susie O'Neill during a school carnival where she represented St Mary's College.

A second Olympic Games looms, all going to plan.



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