By Mr. Tim Hipps (FMWRC)July 20, 2010
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - 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 at the 2010 U.S. National Boxing Championships July 12-17.
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 Atterbury (Ind.) 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.
"This means everything to me because I've worked so hard - grinding blood, sweat and tears in the gym - and this is my reward. This is the fun time. This is what we work for. This is what we share blood for - what I get beat up and down in the gym for right here. We're an Army of One, baby. I'm going to go out fighting until I die."
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 came 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."
"I love my hook so much. I'm strong in both hands, but I get hook happy and me and coach talk about that all the time. ... This time, I switched it up and came right back with the right hand. Coach has been telling me it's open all week and I did it this time. It was open, and it worked."
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 got 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.
"I've been bitter all day and trying to get my mind right for this fight," he said after securing the bronze. "Right before I went into the ring, a referee came up to me and said he was sorry about what happened last night. He said he didn't believe that it should have been stopped, that he thought I was showing that I was OK, but everybody has their perception of how it looked."
"I wasn't even going to fight today," Franklin continued. "A lot of other boxers were telling me they wouldn't do it if they were me. They felt like it would be too hard to come back from something like that, but I felt like if I was a pro and I got knocked out, that's exactly how I would want to come back and avenge myself. It was definitely well worth it."
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."