ABBOTT BLOG: A tribute to retiring Logan Stieber, one of the all-time greats

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | April 18, 2019, 5:38 p.m. (ET)
Graphic of Logan Stieber after winning 2016 World title by Kadir Caliskan.

Social media was on fire yesterday after Logan Stieber posted a simple message on his Instagram account.

_logiebear_ Grateful to have done this sport for the last 24 years. Out of everything I will miss competing alongside my friends the most. On to the next adventure.

Stieber’s retirement from competition has been a topic of conversation for a while now, but it is really not “official” until the athlete actually says it in public. With his statement on Wednesday, Logan Stieber confirmed that he will not be stepping out into the center of the mat representing the USA ever again.

With the U.S. Open only a few days away and our top U.S. men freestyle wrestlers down in Argentina at the Pan American Championships, it feels a little strange that Logan Stieber will not be wrestling this weekend or next weekend or even after that. He has been one of the stars of the current crop of great wrestlers who helped the USA win the World Team title in 2017, and has placed our men’s freestyle program at the top of the international scene in recent years.

What is interesting about Logan’s decision is that he is still currently one of the best wrestlers in the world. As we were putting together the rankings for USA Wrestling going into the U.S. Open, Logan Stieber was sitting at No. 1 at 65 kg. At the time of his retirement, Logan Stieber was America’s best wrestler at his weight class, a member of the most recent U.S. Senior World Team and clearly considered one of our top hopefuls for the 2020 Olympic team.

I will use a baseball analogy to express my thoughts about Logan leaving while still an amazing athlete. Growing up, one of my favorite baseball players was Willie Mays (he was my older brother Jim’s absolute favorite, but my No. 1 was Tom Seaver). My favorite team was the New York Mets. Very late in his career, Willie Mays became a New York Met, which was very exciting for our family. The Willie Mays we went to watch in Shea Stadium in a Met’s uniform was not the Willie Mays we knew throughout our childhood. The amazing skills which put Mays in the conversation as a potential GOAT in baseball had eroded. It was probably past time for Willie Mays to have retired.

That will not happen with Logan Stieber. There is no doubt that if Stieber had gone down to the Pan Ams this week, or if he had entered the U.S. Open next week, he would still have had what it takes to be a champion. He has stopped competing at a time when he has the skills needed to be among the very best.

Although I have not talked to Logan about the reasons for his decision, I believe I can understand it a little bit. The kind of commitment, intensity, sacrifice, passion, focus and energy it takes to be the absolute best in the world at wrestling is unbelievable. You can be doing everything right and have the physical, mental and technical abilities to be a World or Olympic champion, and you can still fall short of that goal. The line between being the champion and not the champion is a very, very thin line.

Logan Stieber had it all when he reached two of the biggest achievements for an American wrestler. Four-time NCAA champion. World champion. He was one of the very few who were able to put it all together and make it happen. He had everything it takes, plus that little bit more, that edge, that spark, which only the greatest have.

I first had dealings with Logan when he was a high school superstar from Ohio, and had his way with the field in Fargo. Even at that age, you could tell that this kid was something special.

I also had the opportunity to see him win all four of his NCAA titles. His first was very, very difficult, as he edged Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State 4-3 in 133 finals, a match people are still talking about. The other wrestlers he beat in the NCAA finals were Tony Ramos of Iowa (2013), Devin Carter of Virginia Tech (2014) and Mitchell Port of Edinboro (2015). It was one of the greatest college careers ever, period.

I choose to remember Logan’s career, however, from the 2016 Senior World Championships when he won the World gold medal at 61 kg in Budapest. It was one of the greatest performances I have witnessed in over three decades coving international wrestling.

Let’s get this on the table right away. Although this World Championships featured just six weight classes (two in each discipline), the World Championships weights that were not included in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, this was a true World Championships. Every single weight class was loaded with top stars, and the road to the gold was as difficult as any other Senior Worlds event. All of the champions in Budapest were World Champions.

Stieber had competed in the Olympic Trials at 65 kg and did not let the disappointment of not making the team for Rio keep him down long. He made the decision to drop to 61 kg, which was a very difficult task for him, and he prepared for the next few months for the World Championships. When our delegation arrived in Hungary, Stieber was ready.

Logan had one fantastic performance right from the start. In his opener, Stieber quickly beat 2015 World bronze medalist Vasyl Shuptar of Ukraine with a 10-0 technical fall.

The next two matches were won with Stieber coming from behind and scoring dramatic takedowns in the closing seconds. In the quarterfinals, he beat World medalist Akhmed Chakaev of Russia, 13-11, a match you need to watch on the internet. In the semifinals, a last-second takedown defeated 2012 Junior World champion Behnam Ehsanpoor of Iran, 9-8. They were among the most dramatic wins I have ever seen, hands down.

After reaching the finals, Stieber explained how he could pull off those amazing buzzer-beater takedowns. “It is just focus. I don’t really think. I am just out there trying to score. I have confidence in my sprint and my short time offense,” he said.

In the finals, we saw an athlete who knew how to win under the bright lights. Stieber defeated another stud, Beka Lomtadze of Georgia, this time by an 8-4 score.

When he won his World title, Stieber was pleased but not satisfied. “I wrestled well. There are lots and lots of things, different areas that I can do better,” he said with the gold medal around his neck. That answer explained why he was able to be the World Champion. He was always working hard, never done improving, always raising the bar for himself.

One of the best things about Logan Stieber was the kind of person he is. All you have to do is read all of the messages on social media about him after Wednesday’s official announcement. This man has made a lot of friends and impacted so many lives during his journey of excellence within wrestling. In his interviews, he was sometimes a bit soft spoken, but was very intelligent. Win or lose (which was not often), Logan showed not only class, but a passion for the sport and an appreciation for the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

The good thing is that Logan will remain very active in wrestling. He will be a coach with the Ohio Regional Training Center and work with young athletes in Ohio as well. He will continue to make a difference in our sport.