Next stop for Niko — London Olympic Games?Former Spartan is training for U.S. Olympic Trials, which are April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
A year and half ago, Niko Bogojevic became the most decorated Spartan wrestler in 40 years when he won the 285-pound Wisconsin state title.
This week, the 2010 Superior High School graduate was back in town and dropped by the school to meet with the current generation of Spartans.
“It’s weird coming back into the (wrestling) room, but it’s also nice because it’s kind of reliving the past,” Bogojevic said. “I kind of miss the old high school days.”
Bogojevic has been busy since high school. He spent the 2010-11 season wrestling for Augsburg College (Minneapolis) and competing with the Minnesota Storm wrestling club.
In June he competed in the 2011 USA Wrestling U.S. World Team Trials in Oklahoma City, and in July he flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Junior Pan American Games. There he won the gold medal in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling for his weight class.
Now Bogojevic looks forward to an even bigger event — the Olympic Trials April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa.
He qualified for the Trials in the 120 kilogram (264.5 lbs.) weight class with a fifth-place finish at a qualifying tournament at Arlington, Texas in December.
“You visit home, and it’s nice to visit, but somehow I think something’s wrong with me because I want to get back into it,” Bogojevic said.
For the past five months, Bogojevic has been training for his shot at the Olympics, taking the year off from school to make the most of his opportunity.
He started on his current trajectory at the World Team Trials in Oklahoma City, where he was approached by two-time U.S. Olympian Rulon Gardner.
“I’m sitting there watching the finals — I didn’t make the finals obviously — and he comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey kid, would you want to train, because I plan on making a comeback,’” Bogojevic said. “It’s kind of weird, a guy that you looked up to as a kid and now he’s asking for you to train with him.”
Bogojevic seized the opportunity and was with in Logan, Utah by the beginning of August.
Gardner, 40, was the heavyweight gold medalist in the 2000 Summer Games and took the bronze medal in 2004.
“He’s the Wyoming farm boy that beat the undefeated Russian (Alexander Karelin) in 2000,” Bogojevic said.
Gardner had been retired for seven years before he decided to resume training for a possible return at this year’s Olympics.
For two and a half months, Bogojevic stayed at Gardner’s house in Utah and learned the ins and outs of wrestling with the Olympic gold medalist. While there, Bogojevic was joined by two world-class heavyweight wrestlers from Turkey — Attila and Ismail Guzel.
“I’m like a child compared to these guys,” Bogojevic said. “I got tossed around.”
Bogojevic, a Wisconsin state wrestling champion who had a perfect 48-0 record in his senior year at Superior High School, found the experience humbling but helpful.
“This is an elite level,” Bogojevic said. “I came out of college thinking college is hard. It’s a big step from high school to college. Then you get into the big leagues and you get a huge wake-up call. You have no idea; you’re just learning.”
Bogojevic said Utah was a good place to get focused and contemplate his goals. He learned from Gardner what it takes to be a champion at the international level, and he picked up a few tricks from his more experienced counterpart.
But Bogojevic also suffered his share of defeats during the daily training bouts.
“I’m learning from Rulon and I’m like, how am I getting better; you’re kicking my butt every day?” Bogojevic said. “I really don’t see it, and he goes, ‘Don’t worry about. Don’t get frustrated. I know you’re just a little bowling ball of dynamite. Just stick with it.’”
After a few months, Gardner could see the change in Bogojevic’s technique. The former Olympian said Bogojevic has improved 45 percent on his feet but still needed to work on his ground game (par terre).
Since November, Bogojevic has been a resident at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Room and board is covered for the athletes, so the sole focus is working out.
“It took the longest time to get actually in there, because the coaches don’t know too much about me. I’m the new guy, I guess; they don’t know me from my Junior level (wrestling),” Bogojevic said. “But I finally got in there, and I’ve got a roommate now from Illinois. He’s No. 1 in his weight class.”
Bogojevic said he’s enjoyed training with the other Olympic hopefuls, but there are a few things he misses.
“You don’t get mom’s cooking,” Bogojevic said. “I’ve already gained like 10 extra pounds eating my mom’s food.”
Bogojevic has been back in Superior since Dec. 20. He was scheduled to fly back to Colorado today.