LOS ANGELES — For most of us, the games of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are still far on the horizon. But the games are coming up fast for Connor Wilson, a 21-year-old black belt in the Korean fighting style of Taekwondo. He is hoping that it is a date with destiny.
Wilson has plenty of reason to hope. The Dallas native, with deep roots in Mount Vernon, has competed in the annual Taekwondo National Championships 12 times and has won the last six in a row. That includes the 2018 championships, which were held in Salt Lake City this past July. Wilson won a gold medal despite a badly-injured ankle, which he had heavily taped. It was an injury that could have badly hampered him or forced him to sit out.
“I compare Taekwondo, as a fighting style, to boxing, but with kicking,” Wilson said. “The stance is similar. You have to have dynamic footwork and move yourself around the ring. There’s a lot of strategy, so like boxing, you have to control the center of the ring, use your boundaries and have good footwork.”
Wilson is the No. 1 Taekwondo fighter in the country in the 18-32 year-old division at 178 pounds, according to the United States Taekwondo Association (USTA). He started in martial arts at age six and has been at it for about 15 years. Now a student at UCLA, Wilson has never lived in Knox County, but his father (John) and other members of his family are all from Mount Vernon. That also includes his grandparents Clyde and Lorraine Wilson, along with his uncles, Ed and Mark Wilson.
“I have got a lot of family here,” Wilson said. “Actually I’m planning a trip to come down here and see some family in the next few months.”
Taekwondo is a club sport at UCLA, but they send fighters to the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) Championship. Wilson has won that event three years running, and is looking to win it again as a senior in college. Fighting is in his blood.
“My dad was a boxer for a while, in high school and college,” Wilson said. “My neighbor in Dallas did Taekwondo, so he introduced me to the sport. He is sort of like my mentor.”
Taekwondo has drawn the map of his life, both past and future.
“Doing Taekwondo my whole life has kept me pretty disciplined, especially with balancing my athletic career and my academics,” Wilson said. “It helped me get into UCLA. It helped me to excel in school and keep me focused. It kept me on the right path and kept me from getting in trouble.”
Wilson is currently getting ready for the Olympic trials, coming up around the end of 2019. There, he will fight for a spot on the U.S. National Team. He will undergo intense preparation at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“My first time in Colorado Springs, I was 13, when I made the junior national team,” Wilson said. “I get there about once a year and train with Olympic coaches, using facilities there. It’s an incredible place. The people are wonderful. I remember running into (Olympic swimmer) Michael Phelps there and some of the biggest names for the U.S. team. I didn’t talk to him or anything. He was swimming and he was just getting out of the pool, but I got to see him, along with others. I got to watch what they were doing.”
People often ask Wilson if he is ever thinking about cage fighting, but that’s not his style.
“That’s really not my sort of thing,” Wilson said. “I’m not really into that brute force type of fighting. A lot of it does take a lot of technique, but some of these guys use brute force and just go at it. That’s not what I do. What I do is more for technique, skill and athleticism.”
With a head for business and all of his talent, Wilson’s future burns brightly ahead of him.
“I’m focused on business and management at UCLA, but I’m not thinking about starting my own (taekwondo) school, right now,” Wilson said. “Maybe when I’m a little older and I have my career settled, I might think about that. I’ll graduate after this year, then I’m hoping to get my MBA after the Olympics. Right now, my dream is to bring home an Olympic medal.”