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Former Superior wrestler aims for London Olympic Games

Former Superior High School wrestler Niko Bogojevic is looking forward to the U.S. Olympic Trials on April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram)

A year and half ago, Niko Bogojevic became the most decorated Superior high school wrestler in 40 years when he won the Wisconsin state title at 285 pounds as a senior.

Now, Bogojevic looks forward to an even bigger event -- the U.S. Olympic Trials on April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa.

He qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 120-kilogram (264.5 pounds) weight class with a fifth-place finish at a qualifying tournament at Arlington, Texas, in December.

For the past five months, Bogojevic has been training for his shot at the 2012 Summer Olymics in London, taking the year off from college 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, and he comes up to me and goes, 'Hey kid, would you want to train, because I plan on making a comeback,'" Bogojevic said while visiting Superior over the holidays. "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 to work out with Gardner, 40, the heavyweight gold medalist in the 2000 Summer Games and bronze medalist 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, who had a 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. 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 on his feet but still needed to work on his ground game.

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," 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 has been busy since graduating from high school in 2010. He spent the 2010-11 season wrestling for Augsburg College in 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, where he won the gold medal in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines.