What Ipswich's Olympic silver medallist is planning next

Leah Neale is back in Ipswich after winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. With dog Scruff.
Leah Neale is back in Ipswich after winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. With dog Scruff. Rob Williams

IPSWICH'S Olympic silver medallist Leah Neale knows the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast provide another rare opportunity.

But as she enjoys a break at home, Neale is keeping an open mind on the future.

"I'd like to be there,'' she said of the chance to swim at a major international event in her home state. "But it's still two years away.''

Neale's next priorities are contesting a World Cup series in late October, working towards the world shortcourse championships in Canada (December) and trying to qualify for next year's world long course championships in Hungary.

As she takes some time out at her family's Newtown home, Neale is keen to swim on after returning with a silver medal as part of Australia's 4x200m freestyle relay team in Rio.

"It's the pinnacle of the sport,'' she said, reflecting on achieving her Olympic dream.

"It gives you that experience. It's given me a bit of confidence to know what I can do.

"All I know is I want to be better. There's more things I want to achieve.''

Proudly holding her silver medal, Neale rates the Olympics everything she expected and more.

"People said it would be like the best week of your life and I could probably say it was,'' she said.

"The people that you are with, experiencing other sports, being amongst everyone else is pretty cool.''

Apart from celebrating her 21st birthday on the Rio pool deck, she swam a personal best leading the Aussie relay team in the heats before sharing in the memorable medal-winning final with Bronte Barratt, Emma McKeon and Tamsin Cook.

"I knew I was doing something good,'' she said looking back on her inspired performance in the heats.

"I was really honoured to be selected to go first because it's one of the hardest positions because you've got to get the team into a good position.''

She said having her 21st birthday at an Olympic Games was "pretty cool''.

She even received a pair of Rio 2016 thongs from the Australian Olympic Committee.

Having her family in Rio enhanced the occasion with Leah's parents Ian and Karen and siblings Sarah and Ashley watching.

"I went up and saw them in the stands,'' Leah said. "They were probably as excited as me, if not more.''

After her success in Rio, Neale got to watch other events and share in the closing ceremony before heading to France and Germany where she competed in another World Cup meet in Berlin.

She won a silver in the 200m freestyle and collected bronzes in the 400m and 800m freestyle before heading home.

All that was after Neale battled a spate of illness following her medal swim.

"A majority of the swim team got really sick,'' she said. "I think it's just because you put your body at such a high intensity then all of a sudden it's all over.''

However, she'll never forget the emotion of standing on the medal dais.

"I cried on the podium,'' the modest former St Mary's College student said.

"I wasn't expecting myself to have one of those medals.

"You see them on the TV and you'll be like 'I've always wanted to be like that' but you never expect yourself to have a medal or be there.''

Neale appreciated all the well wishes she received. "It just makes you realise how much support you have back here in Ipswich,'' she said.

"I've seen a couple of the videos from the Silkstone kids. That was pretty cool.''

Returning to Ipswich, Leah enjoyed another welcome surprise.

Neale's dog Scruff had missed her being away so long preparing for the Olympics and doing her country proud.

"He hasn't left my side,'' she said as Scruff lined up for more attention, oblivious to what the Ipswich swimmer had achieved.

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