HOUSTON (Army News Service, Aug. 29, 2007) - U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Downs recently took another step toward becoming the oldest U.S. boxer in Olympic history.

"One more step. Just one more step," Sgt. 1st Class Downs said as he stepped down from the ring after winning the light heavyweight division at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials.

Sgt. 1st Class Downs punctuated his performance with a 21-11 decision of San Diego's Yathomas Riley in the 178-pound finale at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Aug. 25.

"When I say one more step, that's a credit to my coaches and teammates for helping me get here," Sgt. 1st Class Downs explained. "Now it's time to move on to the next step, which is to get ready and prepare for Beijing."

Although he sealed a spot on Team USA, he still must earn an Olympic berth for the United States at one of three qualifying tournaments. The first opportunity comes Oct. 23 through Nov. 3 at the 2007 AIBA World Boxing Championships in Chicago, where a top-eight finish will secure an Olympic berth in his weight class.

Sgt. 1st Class Downs, 32, an infantryman stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., already is the oldest boxer in U.S. Olympic Team history. Should Sgt. 1st Class Downs step into the ring in Beijing, he will be 33. The age limit for Olympic boxers is 34.

"That's just another feather in the cap when I go back to the line and tell all those 17- and 18-year-olds who say: 'C'mon, Sergeant Downs, get up that hill.' I'll just pull that feather out and say: 'When you make that Olympic team somewhere down the line, then you can talk to me like that.'"

An all-around athlete who almost attended the University of Tennessee on a basketball grant-in-aid, Sgt. 1st Class Downs made his boxing debut just four years ago at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Little did he know what he was getting into.

"I thought I'd go to All-Army (Boxing Camp), punch a few guys and get punched, and go back to the line and continue Soldiering," said Sgt. 1st Class Downs, a native of Knoxville, Tenn.

"Never in a million years" would he have expected to win consecutive national championships and a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sgt. 1st Class Downs was deployed in Iraq from January 2004 until March 2005, when his commander released him to attend the All-Army Boxing Camp.

"My chain of command, from company all the way up to division, supported me 100 percent," he said. "If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be standing here today. They granted me early leave from Iraq to attend All-Army Boxing Camp and I've just been rolling ever since.

"Sergeant Maj. Karl Morgan and Col. Lee, I owe all this to them and all my comrades who pushed me and told me that I could do it before I left from day one."

Sgt. 1st Class Downs, who said he considers himself "a super Soldier," often yearns to return to his deployed unit.

"There were good days and bad days," he recalled of a year spent north of Tikrit. "I had a platoon of 16 and 11 guys from my platoon received Purple Hearts. I was in charge of six Soldiers and four of them received Purple Hearts and two of them received it twice, so I would say I saw my share. ... I was blessed not to receive a Purple Heart."

When cornered in Houston, Sgt. 1st Class Downs compared pugilism and war.

"Here, win or lose, you can come back the next day," he said of the sweet science. "It's easy to get knocked down and know you can get back up nine times out of 10.

"Being in Iraq, I've seen stuff where guys don't go home. They put their lives on the line, and there's no second place. They have to realize that tomorrow is not promised and take advantage of every opportunity."

At the Olympic Trials on Saturday night in Houston, Sgt. 1st Class Downs seized an opportunity against Riley.

"I wanted to keep landing punches in bunches," Sgt. 1st Class Downs said. "I had to respect his power so I kept moving and turning so he couldn't get set for those body and hook shots."

On Wednesday, Sgt. 1st Class Downs advanced to the finals with an 11-9 decision of Riley, who boxed his way out of the challenger's bracket with victories Thursday and Friday.

"He's a tremendous puncher and one punch can change the whole game, so I wanted to stay sharp and win by any means necessary - look bad or whatever it took to get a win and move on. I tried to make him miss and capitalize on his mistakes," said Sgt. 1st Class Downs, who drew praise from his own corner.

"He's looking great," said All-Army coach Basheer Abdullah, Team USA's head coach for the 2004 Olympic Games. "You can see how he's really matured as a boxer."

Sgt. 1st Class Downs opened the tournament with an 8-7 victory over Angel Concepcion of East Orange, N.J. The next day, he stopped Cymone Kearney of Oakland, Calif., just 1 minute, 15 seconds into the first round.

"With a beautiful right hand," Mr. Abdullah said. "It was explosive."

"It's always a good win for the oldest guy in USA Boxing," Sgt. 1st Class Downs concluded. "Just one more step to my ultimate goal, which is to compete up to my ability in Beijing."

(Tim Hipps writes for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.)