By Tim HippsOctober 24, 2007
HYDERABAD, India (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2007) - Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Shepherd won a gold medal in the heavyweight division to highlight the U.S. Armed Forces boxing team's four-medal performance at the 4th CISM Military World Games.
The U.S. Army Golden Knights women's parachute team also won a gold medal and the men's team took home a silver from the Conseil International du Sport Militaire games that ended Sunday in India.
But when Staff Sgt. Shepherd climbed into the ring to face Germany's Erken Teper in the final boxing bout of the 2007 Military World Games, he believed Team USA was still competing for its first and only gold medal of the games.
"Honestly, with no Americans having won a gold medal, the pressure got to me," admitted Staff Sgt. Shepherd, who fought tentatively in the first round. "It took a couple of hard shots to wake me up."
If two brutal punches did not do the trick, U.S. head boxing coach Basheer Abdullah's demonstrative instructions between rounds one and two certainly got Staff Sgt. Shepherd's attention. Had he known the U.S. women's formation skydiving team had secured a gold medal earlier in the day, he probably would have gotten busy earlier in the fray.
"It would've helped," Staff Sgt. Shepherd admitted. "It would've helped."
Coach Abdullah knew the scenario but wanted Staff Sgt. Shepherd to believe that Team USA's fate still rested on his heavyweight's broad shoulders.
"I'm sure that our military mission is hurting a lot of our sports, but we wanted to top it off by getting that gold medal," Mr. Abdullah said. "We definitely didn't want our country to go back home without any gold, so the pressure was on us and we responded to it."
Staff Sgt. Shepherd, a 1999 graduate of Union Pines High School in Cameron, N.C., responded by exhibiting the ferociousness Coach Abdullah has been seeking since the heavyweight from Fort Eustis, Va., joined the World Class Athlete Program in January of 2006.
"Ever since the start of the third round of his first fight, he's turned it up," Coach Abdullah said of Staff Sgt. Shepherd's performances at the Military World Games. "He showed me what I've been looking for since he's been in WCAP. He had a hell of a performance in the semifinals. That was the type of boxing I've been waiting to see for a very long time. He really let it go. He was mean. He was powerful. He was physical."
"Besides my 5-year-old son being born, this is certainly the greatest moment of my life," said Staff Sgt. Shepherd, 26, a WCAP boxer stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., after winning the gold. "Seeing our flag being raised and hearing our national anthem being played made me think about all the Soldiers serving overseas in harm's way."
For only the second time in his boxing career -- the other coming at the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials two months ago in Houston -- Staff Sgt. Shepherd had to weigh in for four fights in one week. He came up two bouts short in Houston. This time, he went the distance and won a 15-7 decision.
"Everything clicked at the right time," said Staff Sgt. Shepherd, adding that his inspiration came from Army WCAP teammates Sgt. John Franklin and Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman, who both won silver medals.
"John Franklin had to make weight, so he couldn't eat or drink what he wanted to eat or drink," Staff Sgt. Shepherd explained. "He had to dig deep down for intestinal fortitude, being without energy and going out there and competing the way he did. That gave me inspiration to go out there and do the same. And Joe Guzman went through three surgeries, but he still was able to advance to a silver medal. We were feeding off each other."
Sgt. Franklin, 23, of Fort Carson, lost a 19-5 decision to China's Linzhi Gao in the 51-kilogram finale.
"It was a good bout all the way through, but making this weight for a long period of time really got to me," said Sgt. Franklin, a three-time U.S. Armed Forces champion from Kansas City, Mo. "I'm moving up to the 119-pound division and this is my last time fighting in this weight class, so I wanted to go out with a bang.
"I think this was a great experience," Sgt. Franklin continued. "This is the best way for me to end it. I could've got the gold. I should've got the gold. But I was blessed with the silver medal and that's what I take into appreciation. I just want to thank my coach because I got myself to the quarterfinals and he got me past it -- and we got all the way to the finals. My first two matches couldn't have gone better for me."
During the semifinals, Sgt. Franklin was winning 24-21 when the Korean opponent's coach threw in the towel with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth and final round. The score was tied after rounds two and three.
The boxers exchanged a flurry of body shots in the fourth round before Sgt. Franklin took a three-point lead with left hooks to the body and head with about 45 seconds left.
"I just kept stepping to him and we were banging each other," Sgt. Franklin said. "I hurt my left elbow in the third round. It really hurts now. I can barely straighten it out, but I'm a warrior so I'll just keep fighting through it. I can handle anything, Sir."
Coach Abdullah was impressed with Sgt. Franklin's performances during a 16-11 win over Kenya's Kariuki Samvel and a 12-9 conquest of Uzbekistan's boxer.
"Sgt. Franklin had two previous bouts that were action packed," Mr. Abdullah said after the finale. "This was his first time going this deep into a tournament -- an international tournament, at that. His semifinal bout was his best performance since he signed with WCAP."
The referee stopped Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman's gold-medal bout against Uzbekistan's Elyorbek Gulomov in the third round with Staff Sgt. Guzman trailing 27-7. Amateur bouts are stopped when the point differential reaches 20.
"I was out there giving it my all and banging with this guy blow for blow and throwing hooks," Guzman said. "I'm upset because it got stopped, but I did my best."
During the past two years, Staff Sgt. Guzman has twice undergone shoulder surgery and bounced back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
"I'll just go back to the drawing board and keep on truckin'," he said. "I would like to thank coach Abdullah and assistant coach Ron Simms. They know us inside and out. We would not be here without them."
Competing in his first international tournament, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samuel Martinez of Camp Lejeune, N.C., received a bronze medal after losing 24-4 to Russia's Zubok Alexei in the 64-kilogram semifinals.
"He stomped on me," Lance Cpl. Martinez said. "That guy is good. He's above the amateur status, but I did my best. I went out there and had some fun and left the ring smiling and holding my head up. It was a great experience just to be here. I got a medal and it was well worth it. I have nothing to regret. I left it all in the ring against a real technical guy."
Along the way, Lance Cpl. Martinez posted a 24-4 victory over Tunisia's Ali Shili in a bout that was stopped in the third round. He also prevailed 11-4 against Abdallah Baony of Jordan.
All in all, coach Abdullah said he could not have asked any more of his team.
"This is, by far, the best team performance by this class of boxers in this quadrenium," Mr. Abdullah said. "They've really started to show that they are growing as boxers. We just hope that they continue to grow and it carries over until 2012."
Nobody in this group of Army WCAP boxers had more than 20 bouts on his resume at the 2006 U.S. National Championships.
"I think the experience of the Olympic Trials is starting to kick in," coach Abdullah said. "It's a combination of them being determined and wanting to be successful and putting them in a good program where they can become some of the best in the nation and some of the best in the world."
Although only Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Downs made the 2008 Olympic Team, Staff Sgt. Shepherd, who finished fourth at the Olympic Trials, said the Military World Games experience has him Olympic dreaming again.
"It was a bit overwhelming at first when we got to Indiantown Gap and saw all of the athletes there," he said of more than 150 U.S. Armed Forces athletes who staged in Pennsylvania for two days before departing to India. "It just dawns on you that you are among some of the world's best athletes, and there's nothing like it."
"This was a great way to close out the year. I couldn't think of any better way to end this quad than for the U.S. Armed Forces boxing team to go home from India with four medals. Now I will probably be deployed or stay in WCAP."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)