Frank Staebler at the 2015 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
As of today, we are just over 50 days from the start of wrestling at the Olympic Games. Over the next 50 days, we'll bring you one profile per day of a decorated international contender. Make sure you get to know the wrestlers that Team USA will compete against in Tokyo.
6/10/21 - Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)
By the time the Olympics roll around in August, German legend Frank Staebler will be 32. His legacy as one of the all-time great Greco-Roman wrestlers has already been defined; however, he is still seeking one of the most prestigious honors in sport, an Olympic medal. Particularly a gold medal.
Staebler started wrestling at four years old. Legend has it that his mother went to enroll him in a gymnastic class, but that was full, so she turned to wrestling. Just 12 years later, Staebler appeared in his first international event as a Cadet competing at 50 kg and taking seventh place at the European Championships. A year later, Frank was back at the European Championships and won his first medal, taking bronze at 58 kg. That was Staebler's final year of Cadet eligibility and he struggled to make an impact after moving up to the Junior division.
Though three years passed between Staebler appearing at a European Championship event as a Cadet and a Junior, he was able to come away with a bronze medal. Just a month and a half later, at his first World Championship event, Staebler won Junior bronze. His 66 kg weight class was won by Saeid Mourad Abdvali (Iran), who would win a Senior world title just two years later and also took bronze at the 2016 Olympics.
2010 marked the next step. Staebler was ready to embark on competing at the Senior level. Like the transition from Cadet to Junior levels, Staebler needed a few years to mature and compete with the best in the world. This year, Staebler dipped his toes in the Senior level waters and took his lumps, getting 12th at the European Championships before a 19th place showing at the German Grand Prix. In 2011, signs of what made come in the near future became evident. Staebler grabbed his first medal at a major Senior-level event when he was third at Cuba's Granma Cup. After taking seventh in Poland, Staebler wrestled for a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships. He was sent to repechage after dropping a 1-0, 1-0 bout to his old friend Abdvali. From the bronze medal, Staebler was shut down 1-0, 2-0 by Hyeon-Woo Kim (Korea).
True Contender Status
It was in 2012 that Staebler really established himself as a force on the Senior level. From this point on, he generally would wrestle for a medal at almost every event he entered for the next decade. The fifth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships secured Staebler and Germany a place in the London Olympics at 66 kg. He began the 2012 season with his first Senior title, which came at Thor Masters. A couple weeks after taking silver in Cuba, Staebler captured his first European Championship. His most memorable moment from European's came in the semifinals, where he used a flying squirrel in the final seconds of the second bout to defeat Aleksandar Maksimov (Serbia). Tune-up's for the Olympics included an eighth-place finish in Poland and a title at the German Grand Prix. In his first bout at the Olympics, Staebler was stunned by Tamas Lorincz (Hungary), 4-1, 2-0. Since Lorincz went on to claim the silver medal, Staebler was pulled into repechage. Staebler's first opponent was American Justin Lester, who he soundly defeated, 5-0, 5-0. In the bronze medal match, he was edged by Manuchar Tskhadaia (Georgia), 1-0, 2-1.
Getting so close to tasting Olympic success had to be a motivator for the 23-year-old Staebler, as he built upon his 2012 season in 2013. The 2013 season also marked the end of the dreaded â€œball drawâ€ era and matches were conducted closer to today's standards. He came out of the gate with titles at the German Grand Prix and the Ian Corneanu Memorial. In Poland, he ran into Lorincz in the finals and came up short again. At the 2013 World Championships, he picked up a pair of wins before running into Islambek Albiev (Russia) in the quarterfinals. Albiev eventually made the finals, getting Staebler a chance at bronze. During his first repechage bout, Staebler took out 2011 World bronze medalist Pedro Mulens Herrera (Cuba), an opponent that previously defeated him at the Granma Cup in 2012. For the bronze medal, Staebler downed Hasan Aliyev (Azerbaijan). Earlier in the tournament, Aliyev had beaten Lorincz, 5-2. This meant Staebler had arrived as he was officially a world medalist on the Senior level.
By the lofty standards that Staebler was beginning to establish for himself, 2014 was fine, but not outstanding. He earned bronze medals at both the European Championships and in Poland. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, at the 2014 World Championships, Staebler ran into another great Iranian wrestler in Omid Nourouzi and was narrowly beaten, 4-3. A pair of repechage wins set up a battle for the bronze with longtime rival, Lorincz. Once again, it was the Hungarian who came out on top, 5-0.
In early 2015 we had a hint of what was to come in the future as Staebler competed up at 71 kg for the European Games. He would claim the bronze. Back at his customary 66 kg weight class, Staebler was on a high note heading into World's as he won in Poland for the first time. Staebler stormed through his first three opponents in Las Vegas without surrendering a single point. In the semis, Frank upset the defending world champion Davor Stefanek (Serbia), 5-1. The task was no easier in the finals, but Staebler was up for the challenge by knocking off 2013 World Champ, Han-su Ryu (Korea), also by a 5-1 score. Finally, Staebler was a world champion. The win marked the first time in 21 years that a German had won a world title.
Next up was an Olympic year in 2016, with the Rio games looming. Like 2015, Staebler started the year up at 71 kg. He competed at that weight in the European Championships and was shocked in the qualification round by Dominik Etlinger (Croatia), 5-5 in his only match of the event. After his second win in Poland, Staebler started the descent to 66 kg by winning his third German Grand Prix title.
At the 2016 Olympics, Staebler found himself against Stefenek in the quarterfinals. The Serbian got a measure of revenge for his loss at the 2015 World Championships as he downed Staebler, 6-2. Stefenek would go on to win Olympic gold. That relegated Staebler to repechage where he was edged by Tomohiro Inoue (Japan), 2-2 on criteria. He would have to settle for seventh place.
The 2016 Olympics marked the final time Staebler would compete at 66 kg. He would move up to 71 in 2017. Staebler's competition schedule was extremely limited in 2017, but that was a good thing as he was victorious again in Poland, just a month and a half before worlds. Paris would be the site for Staebler's second world title. One of his most notable wins came in the Round of 32 as Staebler got by 2015 World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Rasul Chunayev (Azerbaijan), 2-1.
Before the 2018 campaign kicked off, UWW announced the addition of two additional weights for non-Olympic events. That forced Staebler to choose between 67 kg and 72 kg, of which he selected the latter. Staebler's path to a third world title was filled with familiar faces. After getting by Abuyazid Mantisgov (Russia) 3-3 in the Round of 16, Staebler met up with Demeu Zhadrayev (Kazakhstan). It was Zhadrayev that Staebler downed in the finals for his 2017 world title. Next was Chunayev in the semis. This time, Staebler left no doubt as he teched his Azeri foe, 9-1. For the gold medal, Staebler beat Balint Korpasi (Hungary), a world champion from the non-Olympic tournament in 2016. That win pushed Staebler into uncharted territory as he became the only wrestler to win world titles at three different weights.
Perhaps with an eye towards the 2020 Olympics, Staebler dropped back down to 67 kgs in 2019. 72 will not be contested in Olympic competition. It was at that weight where Staebler won his fourth career German Grand Prix as a primer for the 2019 World Championships. In Nur-Sultan, Staebler ran into a buzzsaw, in the form of Ismael Borrero Molina (Cuba) and was teched in the Round of 16. Staebler would eventually earn a bronze medal, but his path through repechage was no cakewalk. He had to get by Ryu just to wrestle for bronze. In his medal match, Staebler survived a scare from two-time U23 World Champion Mohamed Ibrahim El-Sayed (Egypt), 6-5.
Before the pandemic struck, Staebler competed at the 2020 European Championships and won the 72 kg weight class. One of his most notable wins for that tournament was a tech over young star Ulvi Ganizadeh (Azerbaijan).
In 2021, Staebler's only competition, to date, came at the European Championships. There he fell 6-6 to Selcuk Can (Turkey) in his lone bout. Can did not make the finals which knocked Staebler out of the tournament. Can has put together a strong 2021 season thus far with a title at the Henri DeGlane and silver at the Matteo Pellicone.
With three world titles to his name (all at different weights), along with a pair of European championships, the 31-year-old Staebler is already considered a legend. A medal in Tokyo can only add to his incredible resume.