UVU wrestler Taylor LaMont wants to represent the U.S. on the grandest stage, at the Tokyo Olympics

(Photo courtesy Jay Drowns / UVU Marketing: Utah Valley University's Taylor LaMont (right) against the North Dakota State University Bison in the Lockhart Arena on the UVU Campus in Orem, Utah on Friday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Craig LaMont bought all five of his children a yo-yo one Christmas. As each kid unwrapped their gift, they each transitioned from elated to eventually moving onto the next thing. Some lasted an hour before finding something else to entertain them. All of them except young Taylor. He took the yo-yo and then pulled up YouTube videos to see just how much he could do with this new toy.

“He wouldn’t let go of that yo-yo for six weeks,” Craig LaMont said.

He mimicked pros on the Internet.

He won local yo-yo tournaments.

He wanted to keep pushing for more nationally.

So when Craig LaMont is asked why Taylor is where he is now, a little more than a year out of potentially fulfilling a childhood dream, that’s the first story that comes to mind. Because it’s so emblematic of Taylor LaMont: obsessed with not only winning, but mastering whatever he applies himself to. He spurred offers from nationally-renowned wrestling programs around the country to stay close to home, to help Utah Valley University’s wrestling program establish itself among the elite.

“He came out a fighter,” Craig LaMont explains. “His natural personality without any parenting is, ‘I want to perfect things.’”

Naturally then, of course, Taylor always had his sights set not on national titles — he has more than a dozen, by the way — but the pinnacle of his sport. Taylor LaMont wants to become an Olympic wrestler, and beyond that, wants to become an Olympic medalist as a representative of the Stars & Stripes at an Olympic Games. He still has a Wheaties box that features Utah Olympic wrestling hero, Cael Sanderson, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens. That’s how far back this dream goes.

“Every day,” Taylor says, “I wake up and I remind myself I’m training to make the Olympic team.”

But he’s doing so coming off the most taxing season of his young career. A fluke injury in practice one day tore his ACL in his left knee. He was off the mat for longer than ever before in his life. For six months, he was rehabbing to get back to full capabilities. He missed his entire sophomore season at UVU. He’s since bounced back, though, making his seventh-straight U.S. Greco-Roman national team for world championship team trials in May.

“It’s something that I take a lot of pride in and I enjoy it,” he said. “And really, I try not to get used to the feeling, because then I realize how blessed I am to be in this opportunity to train in what I think is the best place in the country.”

This next season will be a true test.

If he chose to do so, Taylor could’ve taken a year off from UVU and focused solely on training for the Olympic trials next April. The 2020 Olympics are just around the corner next summer. But he’s chosen to suit up in Wolverine green once again, to try and dominate the 133-pound weight class all the while prepping for what promises to be an arduous spring next year. He wants to help UVU contend for a national title. The NCAA championships are usually held in late March, so his conditioning shouldn’t be a problem.

Such a quick turnaround to go after his lifelong goal, though, is going to be part of this next phase of his wrestling story. As a young grappler, he dominated the ranks locally and nationally. He won four straight state titles at Maple Mountain High, finishing his high school career 244-9. Later on, Taylor won a bronze medal at the 2016 Junior World Championships.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taylor LaMont was a four-time Utah high school state champion starring at Maple Mountain High School.

“I always had very high goals as a kid,” he said. “Growing up, I wanted be an Olympic champion as a teenager. Those four years pass so quick, so now I’m already on the next Olympic cycle.”

Long ago, Craig LaMont remembers talking to a Bulgarian wrestling coach who helped coach at the Olympics. The coach told Craig that during his visits in the U.S. at various wrestling camps, he’d ask all the young athletes what their goals were in the sport. It was nearly a consensus: they all wanted to be high school state wrestling champs.

He told Craig that around the world, in wrestling powerhouse nations like Iran, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine or Azerbaijan, “if you aren’t a world champion, you’re nothing.” So from a young age, Craig told Taylor and his older son Grant, also wrestling at UVU, that local and national titles don’t mean much if your goal is so much more loftier than that.

“I think it’s given him confidence that he can beat anyone in the U.S. or the world,” Craig said. “He’s not intimidated by anyone. That comes with some humility, too.”

As many as six other Americans in Taylor’s 60-kilogram weight group are capable of earning that much-desired spot at next year’s Olympic trials. It’s a small bracket, he said, which ups the ante of pressure. It will be filled with familiar faces and names, U.S. teammates who have beaten Taylor and who have also lost to him in the past.

“I plan on making the Olympic team,” he says confidently.