East Xtra: Franklin Regional wrestler captures world title

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Spencer Lee was very disappointed with his performance at last summer's Fila Cadet Freestyle World Championships.

The tournament took place in Zrenianin, Serbia, prior to his freshman year at Franklin Regional High School, and Lee placed seventh in the 50-kilogram (110.25 pounds) weight class.

Most wrestlers would have been satisfied with a seventh-place performance at a world tournament, especially considering he was only a 14 year old entered in a 16-and-under tournament ... but not Lee.

"I let myself down. I let my team down. I let the United States down," said Lee, before this summer's Fila Cadet World Championships, which took place in Snina, Slovakia, July 15-20. "I wanted another chance to show everybody that I could win a world title."

Lee and his father, Larry, made the 27-hour trip to Slovakia and came home with the world title that eluded him last year.

"Spencer was determined to win a world title," Larry Lee said. "That's all he talked about since we came home from Serbia last summer. It was such an incredible feeling to watch him win a world title."

Lee was the most dominant wrestler in the tournament. He recorded technical falls of 10-0 and 12-0, then pinned his semifinal opponent after building a 10-0 lead. In the title match, Lee left no doubt who was the best, as he recorded an 11-0 technical fall against Afgan Khashalov of Azerbaijan.

"One of my two losses at last year's world championships was to a wrestler from Azerbaijan," Spencer Lee said. "It wasn't the same opponent, but I wanted to avenge that loss."

The awards ceremony was very emotional for both Lees.

"It didn't really hit me until the medal ceremony," Spencer Lee said. "It was an incredible feeling to receive the medal and hear our national anthem played."

The medal was one of two prizes he received.

"They also gave each champion a cup, sort of like the NHL's Stanley Cup, but not as big." Spencer Lee said. "I was a little disappointed that they didn't give out champions belts, like they did last year."

Larry Lee looked on as a proud parent.

"Watching him stand atop the winners platform was the most amazing thing," Larry Lee said. "He was actually tearing up, and so was I. It was an incredible feeling."

Lee's accomplishment is even more impressive when one considers the injury he sustained six days before leaving for Slovakia.

"Spencer suffered a freak injury four days into a10-day training camp for the U.S. team at Colorado Springs," Larry Lee said. "He suffered a badly bruised floating rib in his back."

Larry Lee wasn't surprised that Spencer didn't refer to the injury.

"Spencer didn't even tell me how badly injured he was," said Larry Lee, who flew to Colorado Springs two days later, in preparation for their trip to Slovakia. "One of his teammates, Gavin Teasdale, called me and said that he didn't think Spencer would be able to wrestle.

"When I arrived in Colorado Springs, Spencer was in bad shape. He couldn't train for the final six days. The only thing he could do was ride an exercise bike to keep his weight down. The day before we left, he couldn't even hit a single without suffering significant pain."

The USA team trainer examined Lee and determined that he could wrestle if he could put up with the pain.

"They even arranged to give Spencer a shot of lidocaine and tape him to keep the rib in place, but Spencer decided against both. He wanted to feel the pain," Larry Lee said. "When we left, Spencer admitted to me that he was 70 percent."

Lee's condition improved slightly after arriving in Slovakia. A day before the tournament, he drilled for the first time.

"He told us that the pain wasn't bad if he stayed in good position," Larry Lee said. "I was really worried. If an opponent would have taken him down, I don't think Spencer would have been able to defend himself."

Lee made sure that nobody took him down, as he outscored his four opponents, 43-0.

"I went into the tournament believing that nothing could stop me from winning the title," Lee said. "It's kind of like winning the Olympics in my age bracket. It's the biggest tournament I've ever participated in. And I'm looking forward to coming back next year and defending my title."

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