Logan Stieber knew this day would come.
He just never imagined it would take quite this long.
A high school prodigy who was beating Olympic-caliber wrestlers as a teenager, Stieber won a junior world silver medal five years ago before becoming a four-time NCAA champion for Ohio State. He also placed second at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
But it wasn’t until last month that Stieber achieved something missing from his sparkling wrestling resume: He made his first U.S. world team on the senior level.
He plans to take full advantage of his opportunity when he competes at the Non-Olympic Weight World Championships, set for Saturday and Sunday in Budapest, Hungary.
“This is extremely exciting — it’s the world championships,” Stieber said. “I thought I would have done this a long time ago, but it’s a hard process. I am super pumped. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I can’t wait.”
The 25-year-old Stieber has dropped down to the non-Olympic weight category of 61 kg. after previously competing in the Olympic division of 65 kg. His international men’s freestyle weight class of 61 kg. is scheduled to take the mat Saturday in Budapest.
“I was definitely interested right away when I heard they were having this event,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to win a world title.”
As it is an Olympic year, worlds are held only for non-Olympic weights, which is two Greco-Roman weight classes (71 kg., 80 kg.), two in men’s freestyle (61 kg. and 70 kg.) and two in women’s freestyle (55 kg. and 60 kg.).
American James Green will be looking for his second world medal in men’s freestyle wrestling at 70 kg. Green won a bronze medal at the 2015 world championships in Las Vegas.
The United States also will enter Sarah Hildebrandt (55 kg.) and Alli Ragan (60) in women’s freestyle with Chris Gonzalez (71) and Patrick Martinez (80) competing in Greco-Roman. Ragan placed fifth in the world two years ago. Martinez is a past world teamer. Gonzalez and Hildebrandt are competing in their first worlds.
With his natural weight around 68 kg., Stieber will be one of the bigger athletes in his weight class in Budapest. Athletes weigh in the day before competition.
“This is a good weight class for me — another kilo higher might be a little better,” Stieber said with a laugh. “But I think it’s a really good fit for me.”
Stieber said it has been an adjustment competing at a lighter class.
“It wasn’t that bad when I made the weight for the qualifier (last month) in New York,” he said. “I changed my diet, and I have a food sponsor that delivers all of my meals. And I’ve done more cardio. It’s tough, you just have to be really disciplined.
“I recovered well in New York after making weight and I felt strong when I competed.”
It was almost exactly a year ago when Stieber earned one of the biggest wins of his career. He knocked off 2014 world champion Soslan Ramonov of Russia at a Golden Grand Prix event in Azerbaijan. Ramonov went on to win an Olympic gold medal at 65 kg. this past August in Rio.
Stieber fell short of making the U.S. Olympic Team and went to Rio as a training partner for the U.S team.
“It was good to have the opportunity to be at the Olympics and see what it was like,” he said. “It made it all real.”
Stieber watched former Ohio State teammate Kyle Snyder become the youngest Olympic wrestling champion in U.S. history at age 20 in Rio.
“That was inspiring,” Stieber said. “Kyle’s always working and always looking to improve. He’s a great wrestler.”
Stieber, who lives and trains in Columbus, Ohio, was dominant in winning the non-Olympic worlds qualifier Nov. 11 in New York City.
“It was my first freestyle tournament where I put everything together,” he said. “I had good offense and good defense, and I wrestled smart. I’m confident I can win at any weight class when I wrestle well like that.”
U.S. national freestyle coach Bill Zadick, a 2006 world champion, spent time recently working with Stieber in preparing for the non-Olympic worlds.
“Logan has been an elite level competitor all of his life,” Zadick said. “He has wrestled many of these athletes and beaten many of them. I expect him to take the fight to his opponents, to be determined when he’s on the mat and bring a high intellect to his strategy. I know he wants to win this world championships, and with all of these positives I think he will be in a very good place in Budapest.”
Stieber’s focus has already shifted to this four-year Olympic cycle, which culminates with the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“Having this world championships right after the Olympics is something that can be huge for me,” he said. “It gives me more high-level matches. And moves me toward my ultimate goal of making the 2020 team and competing for a gold medal.”