COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., (Army News Service) -- The Army made a dent in the medal board at the 2010 U.S. National Boxing Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 17, placing three winners.

U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program boxer Spc. Jeffrey Spencer won a gold medal and teammates Sgt. John Franklin and Spc. Carrie Barry struck bronze.

The Saturday night finals inside the ballroom of the Crown Plaza Hotel opened with a 10-count salute to the late George Steinbrenner for his support of the U.S. Olympic Committee and Team USA athletes. The mood quickly turned upbeat as Outkast's "Hey Ya" blared through the speakers, signaling that America's best amateur boxers were ready to rumble.

Four hours later, Army supporters from nearby Fort Carson had reason to celebrate.

"It's been a while since we've had a national champ so it's a good feeling again, that's for sure," WCAP head boxing coach Basheer Abdullah said. "We should have placed one, two and three."

Spencer, 28, dedicated his 10-9 victory over Robert Brant in the light-middleweight finale to his late grandfather, a former Marine Corps boxer and youth boxing coach who died of a sudden heart attack last New Year's Day. Spencer was visiting his mother in Texas for the holidays when his grandfather dropped to the floor.

"My mother called 911 and I was trying to do CPR on him and revive him," Spencer said. "My grandfather was the whole reason I started boxing. That was his dream, for me to become a champion. If he was here, he would say he's proud of me - and keep my hands up."

An avid basketball player, Spencer began boxing at age 18 when someone saw him win a brawl at the Atterbury Job Corps Center and suggested that he climb between the ropes.

"When I went back home to Gary, Indiana, I told my grandfather, 'I want to box now.' And he said, 'Alright, we're going to take you to the gym and we'll see how you do,'" Spencer said. "When he saw what I could do, he said I had a natural talent for it, and I went from there. I've been boxing ever since. It was his dream for me to be a national champion and an Olympian, and I'm going for that. Anything that gets in my way, I'm barreling over it."

After winning a couple of brawls in his first two bouts on Monday and Wednesday, Spencer relied on his "quick hands and slickness" for the rest of the tournament.

"My speed is my biggest gift," he said. "Speed first and power second."

Spencer was invited from Fort Hood, Texas, to join the Army's elite boxers in the World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson. Andrew Maynard, a former Army boxer who won the light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, climbed into the ring to hang the hardware around Spencer's neck.

Franklin, 26, won the bronze medal when the referee stopped his lightweight contest against power puncher Adam Lopez of San Antonio. Franklin broke a 10-10 tie by dropping Lopez with a straight right hand in the third round.

"I thought I went up one [point] or maybe I tied it up," Franklin said. "He caught me with a hook and I came back up and tried to go to the body with a straight right hand and 'bam.' All I know is he caught me first with a hook, and I was like, 'Aw, he just got a point.' So I just came back as hard as I could with the right hand and it connected right on the chin and put him down."

True knockouts are rare in the 114-kilogram amateur ranks. Franklin can recall posting only seven KOs in his 108 bouts, 89 of which he won.

"You don't see too many knockouts in that weight class unless it's Rau'shee Warren," Abdullah said of the four-time national champion who is attempting to become the first three-time Olympic boxer in U.S. history.

In the semifinals one day earlier, Franklin was leading by two points when he was stopped by a strong right overhand from Miguel Cartagena, the 2009 national light flyweight champion from Philadelphia. Franklin was floored by the punch and quickly bounced to his feet, but his legs were wobbly and the referee stopped the contest, much to the dismay of Franklin, Abdullah and an Army partisan crowd at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"That was a heartbreaker," Abdullah said.

"He didn't hurt me the whole fight," Franklin said. "I was dominating him. I didn't even see the punch. He hit me on the top of the head, right above the headgear, and that was the only punch I felt from him all night."

Franklin thought the referee should have stopped the fight when he staggered to his feet, if at all -- but not after he jumped up and down and said he was ready to resume boxing.

"You've got to let the elite guys go with what they know," Franklin said. "If this was the first day of the tournament, I could definitely understand, but we're going for the gold medal -- you've got to let it go sometimes."

One day later, Franklin regrouped and fought for third place.

Barry, 29, holder of nine national crowns, had all but retired from the ring and was taking up the triathlon when it was announced that women's boxing would debut at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. After taking a one-year hiatus from the ring, she returned in Colorado Springs and lost 16-9 to eventual national champ Queen Underwood of Seattle in the 132-kilogram semifinals.

"After a year off and having limited time to train for this competition, I was really happy with my performance this week," Barry said. "All of the rounds I felt really good. She caught me with a nice clean shot in that first round and I was able to recover. I caught her with some good shots. In the end, she got me with more than I got her."

Barry already has captained U.S. national teams in numerous international competitions. She joined the Army to pursue her Olympic dream.

"I was ready to start coaching," she said. "Flip around and give back to the sport that's given me so much. The moment I found out about the Olympics, the first person I called was coach Abdullah. ... Coming into the military was a big choice. ... Now I've just got that one last goal of being an Olympian."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16