Natalie Coughlin won her 12th Olympic medal Saturday, only this time she was out of the pool on the bench as Brooklyn's Lia Neal and fellow 17-year-old Missy Franklin joined Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt to take the bronze in the women's 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay final.
"I'm just so happy we all chipped in to help Natalie achieve this accomplishment,'' Neal told NBC Sports. "I've learned quite a lot from her.''
The teen is entering her senior year at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan and has been on the Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics swim team for nine years.
In a somewhat surprising move, U.S. coach Teri McKeever opted to leave Coughlin -- whom she personally coaches -- off the relay team for the evening final after morning preliminaries. Neal and Schmitt competed in both races and Coughlin, 29, and Amanda Weir were replaced by Hardy and Franklin.
"I don't envy the coaches, what they had to go through this morning," Coughlin told NBC after the final. "They really weighed the decision and I think they made a good one."
Neal earned a spot on the Olympic team with a fourth-place finish in the trials in Omaha, Neb., on June 30, joining Maritza Correia as the only women of African-American descent to swim for the United States in the Olympics. Correia won a silver medal in 2004 in the same event.
Neal, whose father is African-American and her mother Chinese-American, became an overnight sensation after qualifying and even received Twitter kudos from film director Spike Lee and singer Alicia Keys, fellow New York-born celebrities.
Of her role as a trailblazer, Neal told The Associated Press in June, "I just hope this inspires more people to join the sport."