Olympic wrestler has local tie

•Click here to read about wrestler Chas Betts’ sister, who works at the Elk River Care Center and will be going to the Olympics to watch her brother compete.

St. Michael wrestler Chas Betts to represent USA at London Olympics

by Aaron Brom

Special to the Star News

When Chas Betts was a youngster in St. Michael, his father Pete thought Chas might be interested in wrestling.

And it couldn’t have happened in a more suitable place — as St. Michael-Albertville consistently represents one of the top wrestling programs in the state.

United States Olympic wrestler Chas Betts of St. Michael celebrates a victory as a member of the Minnesota Storm, which has sponsored him since he graduated from St. Michael-Albertville High School in 2004. Betts will compete in the London Olympics Aug. 6.

So the then-first-grader hit the mat, became a winning youth wrestler and went on to a successful career in high school and college, and is now at the pinnacle of wrestling’s elite class — that of a United States Olympian.

He will thus represent the U.S. Greco-Roman Wrestling team at the 2012 London Olympics.

Good from the start

His high school coach, Gregg Greeno, recalled Betts’ first years in competition.

“He showed up at our wrestling room just a little pudge ball, but he loved the sport,” Greeno said. “He’s been strong at it ever since. He was very good right when he started out.”

Greeno said that, besides Betts’ talent on the mat, he particularly appreciated his team leadership skills.

“Chas’ main focus was to win state as a team,” Greeno said. “We won and he won. He set the tone in practice: ‘You guys better work hard, we want to win state.’ I just appreciated him setting the tone. He had a great career for us.”

Betts finished his STMA career in 2004 as both team and individual state champion.

He then continued the winning tradition at Northern Michigan University, where he honed his Greco-Roman Wrestling skills under coach Ivan Ivanov as a member of the U.S. Olympic Education Center. He spent six years in Michigan before graduating with a degree in art and design in 2010.

Chas Betts of St. Michael, in beard sixth from left, celebrates with other U.S. Olympians at the United States Olympic Trials.

“During my six years at NMU, I was sponsored by the Minnesota Storm and won a number of international and domestic medals,” Betts said. “The highlight of my time spent at the USOEC was making the U.S. World Team in 2009 and competing in the World Championships in Herning, Denmark.”

After graduation Betts moved to Colorado Springs to continue training as a resident of the Olympic Training Center, where he has lived since summer 2010.

Before heading to London, Betts got to enjoy a visit back in St. Michael last weekend, where friends and family threw him an “Olympic Sendoff.”

“I’m excited,” he said. “Excited to get home and spend the last few days back at St. Michael and in Minnesota before I take off.”

He got his last workout on American soil Saturday morning, July 21.

A perfect fit for wrestling from the start

Recalling his days as a youth in St. Michael, Betts said he was a perfect fit for wrestling from the start.

“I never looked back,” he said. “It’s the only sport I truly enjoyed. There’s nothing close to the level of wrestling. I stuck with it from day one.”

He said STMA’s winning tradition taught him how important it was to be a champion and work hard.

“The whole idea is you work hard and you get what you deserve,” he said. “That’s what I learned in that program. It’s where it all began.”

Besides Greeno, he also credited STMA youth wrestling coach John Thorn as being a big influence and recognizing Betts’ talent. The Thorn family is well known for wrestling prominence, as John’s sons Mike, David and Tommy all went on to huge success in the sport.

And Betts’ own brother, Parker, is mirroring that same success. Parker is a 2011 graduate and, like Chas, attends Northern Michigan. Betts said his brother is also aiming for future Olympic status.

“I hope the best for him,” Betts said of Parker. “If he sticks with it, I don’t see why not.”

Grueling training to prepare for Olympics

Betts has undergone a grueling training regimen in preparation of London. He lives on campus at the Olympic Training Complex and works out twice a day four days per week. He works out once on Wednesdays and Saturdays and takes the day off Sundays.

“I’ve had that schedule for eight years since graduating at STMA,” he said. “I used to lift weights but now it’s 100 percent on the mat. We need those Saturday and Sunday recoveries.”

Betts will wrestle in 84 kilograms in London, where he and the rest of the U.S. athletes will reside in the Olympic Village. His only day of competition is Aug. 6, when he and 20 other international wrestlers in his weight will vie for the gold medal.

Following London, Betts will enjoy a trip to Paris. Along for the journey will be family members, parents Pete and Pam, wife Kristi and her parents, Jim and Benita Oliver, brother Parker, sister Melissa, and grandmother Nona Betts — all of whom will of course be there in London, too.

Betts said he is aiming for the gold, and isn’t intimidated by any of the international competitors he’ll be facing, especially since he’s already wrestled most of them in international competition, having beat the 2008 Olympic champion and 2010 world champion.

“I’m pretty well prepared knowing what caliber these guys are and that they are beatable,” he said. “If anybody doesn’t have gold expectations for themselves, they’re selling themselves short. That’s got to be their expectation.”