Queen Underwood: A Sigh of Relief
After some consternation, Queen Underwood is going to London.
Queen Underwood is feeling buoyant again.
After receiving the news Monday that she’s had been selected for the U.S. Olympic boxing team, she could probably float all the way to London.
“Hearing the news, it gave me a lift,” said Underwood, 28, a five-time national champ whose loss at the AIBA World Championships in China last month put her Olympic status in doubt. “Like my sister described yesterday, I was like a helium balloon, and I was like slowly deflating. And at the end of this long wait I was kind of like hovering on the bottom floor, and if you would have seen me jumping around, running around yesterday, it was like I got my air back.
“I’m all winded up, ready to go and train with my teammates and represent USA to the fullest.”
Although Underwood, a 5-foot-5 lightweight, won the U.S. Olympic boxing team trials in February, she fell short of locking up a spot on the team for London when she lost a one-point decision to Ingrid Egner of Norway in the preliminary round of the World Championships in May.
That meant she had to wait and hope — she said Tuesday she had “been stressed out” — that she eventually would be granted an at-large berth. On Monday, she received a call from Anthony Bartkowski, executive director for USA Boxing, telling her that she’d been granted a berth in the 12-woman lightweight field for the London Games, where women’s boxing will make its Olympic debut.
The decision to award Underwood a spot was made by AIBA, the international governing body for amateur boxing.
When she got the call from Bartkowski, Underwood was near her home in the Tacoma, Wash., area accompanied by a film crew that is working on a documentary about her.
She said she just started jumping up and down.
“I was overwhelmed and was really going crazy, and I couldn’t control all my emotions,” Underwood said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “As far as keeping my hopes alive, I didn’t really know about the process or anything, so I couldn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get picked.’ I was just praying and staying available and hoping.”
She found herself playing the waiting game because of her loss to Egner in China. Though Underwood is perhaps the most decorated fighter in American women’s boxing — with a bronze medal at the 2010 World Championships and a silver at the 2008 Pan American Games — her loss to Egner left her without a clear path to London.
Since then, she’s continued to work out in Tacoma, but hasn’t been in the ring. Now that her path is clear, and she knows she’ll be joining teammates Marlen Esparza (flyweight) and Claressa Shields (middleweight) in London, she can’t wait to get back to Colorado Springs to resume full-scale workouts and training.
She believes she deserves the spot, just as Canada’s Mary Spencer deserves the at-large berth she also received Monday from AIBA.
“This is a second chance for me to show who I am, who I really am,” Underwood said.
The loss to the Norwegian she chalks up now to a learning experience. She knows now that she wasn’t mentally prepared. She said she “felt off the whole day” and didn’t have the concentration she needed, which led to a slow start. Though Underwood came back strong in the match to lose by just one point, she says she’s learned more about the importance of mental preparation and focus.
The draw for the Olympic tournament hasn’t yet been determined, but Underwood knows the competition well. It will include Katie Taylor of Ireland, a four-time AIBA world champion, and Sofya Ochigava of Russia, who lost to Taylor in last month’s lightweight final. Underwood watched their final and called it “a chess match.”
Yet when it was suggested they both appeared strong, Underwood chimed in, saying, “Yeah, I’m strong.”
She said she’s ready to show off the real Queen Underwood.
“I have it, and we all know I’ve had it, and you guys have seen it and you know,” she said of her abilities. “I’m going to go out there. This has been an awakening moment for me.”
The fact she’s going to be part of the Olympic debut of women’s boxing makes her selection all the more significant, Underwood said. She and her teammates will be making history and are looking forward to showing viewers “who we are and what we can do in the ring.”
“There’s going to be a lot of eyes on us,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of wows and oohs and aahs because you know a lot of people out there are going to see our ability and skill level. It’s going to be amazing. We’re going to shock the world.”
For a woman whose motto is “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” Underwood said she’s going to make the most of her Olympic berth and the chance to fulfill the hopes she had when she first put on boxing gloves at Cappy’s Boxing Gym in Seattle at age 19.
“I was aiming to be the best that I could be,” she said Tuesday.
Now she has a golden opportunity.