What’s next for Niko?Former state champ is already looking ahead to 2016 Olympics in Brazil
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
When Niko Bogojevic wrestled at Superior High School, challengers weren’t always easy to come by. Oftentimes, opponents were more willing to forfeit their matches than to face the heavyweight star.
But SHS wrestling coach Bill Gedde knew the trick to coax them into competition — he told the wrestlers that one day, they’d be able to say they faced off against “Niko.”
Bogojevic has already begun building the out-sized reputation that Gedde predicted for him.
During his time at SHS, Bogojevic compiled a career record of 135-15. He was the 2010 WIAA Division 1 heavyweight champion and ended his senior season with a perfect 48-0 record.
Since graduating from SHS in 2010, Bogojevic has continued to hone his wresting skills, and for the past year, he’s rubbed shoulders — and taken some hard knocks — from former and current Olympians.
“Those guys, they’ve got the old man strength,” Bogojevic said. “They’ve got more knowledge and they can toy with you.”
Bogojevic, 20, began his own climb as an Olympic hopeful after meeting two-time U.S. Olympian Rulon Gardner at the 2011 USA Wrestling U.S. World Team Trials in Oklahoma City.
Gardner invited Bogojevic to train with him, and by the start of August the former Spartan was working out with Gardner in Logan, Utah. They trained for about two and a half months before Bogojevic took up residence in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Training was constant, Bogojevic said, but he couldn’t deny how much it helped him improve a s a wrestler.
In December, Bogojevic qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 120 kilogram (264.5 pounds) Greco-Roman weight class with a fifth-place finish at a qualifying tournament at Arlington, Texas. He continued to train alongside the other Olympic hopefuls in Colorado until April’s U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Everybody was helping each other,” Bogojevic said. “Basically my opponents are the guys I train with.”
In the first round of the Trials, Bogojevic squared off against a close teammate — Jake Kettler, who wrestles for the Minnesota Storm alongside Bogojevic.
“I really hate those matches because he knows exactly what I’m going to do,” Bogojevic said.
Bogojevic went on to defeat Kettler, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0, before falling in the semifinals of the challenge tournament.
The loss ended Bogojevic’s hopes for a place on the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 London Games, but he’s looking at the defeat as an opportunity to grow.
“I don’t think I missed anything,” Bogojevic said. “I think I got one step closer.”
The 20-year-old spent his freshman season wrestling for Augsburg College (Minneapolis, Minn.) and competing with the Minnesota Storm wrestling club, but this year he took a break from the college circuit to try for a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Bogojevic said he plans to return to college to earn his degree, but wrestling remains a passion for him.
Bogojevic is back at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs now. He won’t be competing for the United States in London this year, but he’s just as dedicated to his current task of helping the U.S. contender in the 120 kilogram class — Dremiel Byers — as he prepares for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Byers, 37, represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic Game and returns this year with hopes of claiming a medal.
The focus at the Olympic Training Center now is preparing the 2012 Olympians for this year’s competition, so Bogojevic and the other wrestlers switch off as wrestling partners when needed for practice.
“I give it everything I’ve got,” Bogojevic said. “We want him (Byers) to do well. This is for the U.S. team.”
Bogojevic still harbors dreams of his own, though. He’s looking forward to the World competitions next year and by 2016, he hopes to take another shot at representing the U.S. Olympic team.
“I’m just going to keep working hard,” Bogojevic said. “I’m still hungry. I’m not done yet.”