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Native New Yorkers set to make their mark at Rio Olympics

Jamie C. Harris | 7/7/2016, 11:57 a.m.
In various sports and disciplines, New York City will be well represented next month at the Rio Olympics.
Nzingha Prescod Contributed

In various sports and disciplines, New York City will be well represented next month at the Rio Olympics. And it is African-American women who will be at the heart of the city’s connection to Brazil.

Foil fencer Nzingha Prescod, a Stuyvesant High School alumnus and Columbia University grad, will be competing in her second consecutive Olympic Games. A product of the acclaimed Peter Westbrook Foundation, the 24-year-old Brooklyn native won a bronze medal at the 2015 Senior World Championships.

In swimming, Lia Neal, who was raised in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, will also take part in back-to-back Olympics. The 21-year-old Stanford University student-athlete, who honed her skills as a member of the Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics program on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has once again qualified as a member of the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay team.

At the 2012 London Olympics, she became the first woman of African-American descent—Neal’s mother is of Chinese decent—to represent the United States in an Olympic swim final, helping to propel the 4×100 freestyle quartet to a bronze medal.

Along with her 19-year-old Stanford teammate Simone Manuel, who will compete in multiple events, including the 50-meter freestyle, Neal will form a pair that comprises the only Black women to ever simultaneously swim for a United States Olympic Team.

This past Sunday, at iconic Heyward Field in Eugene, Ore., site of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field, Queens’ Phyllis Francis and Brooklyn’s Natasha Hastings finished second and third, respectively, in the 400-meters behind the great Allyson Felix to earn a spot in Rio.

Francis, who attended Catherine McAuley High School in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and Hastings, a 29-year-old graduate of A. Phillip Randolph High School in Harlem, will seek medals in the individual 400 meters as well as in the 4×400-meter relay.

Brooklyn-born Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Athens Games gold medalist in the 100 meters and third in the 100 meters at the London Olympics, will have one more shot at gold in Rio, as he clocked 9.80 Sunday in Oregon, the fastest time in the world this year, to lead the American contingent in the event.