Tears of joy as Ipswich celebrates Leah's success
ONE of her first coaches was on the brink of crying.
Ipswich's previous Olympic swimmer said silver success will change her life.
Another top regional coach praised her focus under pressure.
Ipswich born and bred swimmer Leah Neale is already having a dramatic impact after winning her first Olympic Games medal.
Leah, 21, is on top of the world after sharing in Australia's 4x200m freestyle relay silver medal glory in Rio.
Ipswich swimming icon Peter McMahon was holding back tears of joy after watching Leah embrace Aussie relay teammates Bronte Barratt, Emma McKeon and Tamsin Cook on the pool deck.
"She's fantastic,'' an emotional McMahon said, having been one of Leah's first coaches along with Shirley Stevenson.
"We're absolutely thrilled about her at Olympic level . . . (being) part of that team and that's a bloody high standard.
"I'm going to start crying.''
Leah had risen to the top and succeeded, having grown up in Newtown from those early Ipswich Swim Factory lessons.
Ipswich's previous Olympic swimmer Heath Ramsay was also delighted seeing another locally-bred achiever reach the pinnacle.
"It's unbelievable,'' said Ramsay who represented Australia in butterfly at the Sydney 2000 Games.
"Just to go to the Olympics is amazing. To come away with a medal, no matter what the medal is, it's just extra special on top.
"She'll be on cloud nine and her life will change forever.''
Leah's silver is believed to be the first Olympic medal won by an Ipswich swimmer.
Other elite swimmers before Leah and Heath included backstroker Dick Orbell (1984 Los Angeles Olympics) and 800 freestyler Rosemary Milgate, who finished fourth at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Being from a proud Ipswich family like Leah, 2000 Olympian Ramsay can understand what she's experiencing in Rio.
"She was on the cusp of making it four years ago and missed out,'' the West Moreton Anglican College and Western Aquatics head coach said.
"So I would imagine there would have been a thousand emotions going into her head the last four years.''
Leah took the next step in her swimming career after finishing Silkstone State School and reaching elite level as a St Mary's College student.
Under former long-time coach Peter Carswell, Leah enjoyed major junior success overseas with the CYMS-St Edmund's club before she joined current coach Chris Mooney at Indooroopilly and now at the Sunshine Coast university.
Current CY's coach Stephen Critoph paid tribute to Carswell.
"Peter did a fantastic job in helping her,'' Critoph said. "There's no question he did a great job in getting her to international level.
"And Chris has been able to continue the work that Peter started.''
As she reflects on her medal overnight, Leah will surely ponder her Ipswich origins and incredible family support led by parents Karen and Ian.
"Leah is very much an Ipswich girl and still has very strong ties with the community, as her family has,'' Critoph said.
Karen works at Silkstone State School and Leah's siblings Ashley and Sarah have also swum in the CY's program, along with cousins like the Chandler family.
Before heading to Rio, Leah spent time at Silkstone State School and St Mary's College, where the school presented her with a special video.
"The St Mary's girls were all very excited today,'' Critoph said. "The girls were telling me this morning how they wouldn't have to argue with their teachers about what (Olympic coverage) to put on.''
Like every proud person in Ipswich, Critoph admired how Leah handled the pressure in Rio.
"It was a great job this morning to stand up and in your one and only swim (at that stage) and punch out a PB,'' Critoph said.
Leah secured her spot in the final after swimming a personal best one minute, 57.35s 200m effort leading the team off in the morning heat won by Australia.
In the final, the Aussie relay team clocked seven minutes, 44.87 seconds in finishing behind the powerful US team (7:43.03). The Canadian team collected the bronze (7:45.39).