LONDON - As beginnings go, Chas Betts couldn't have written a better one for his Olympic debut. The St. Michael native walked out to Mat B for his opening Greco-Roman wrestling match Monday, spied his family in seats close to the arena floor at Excel London and incited the crowd with a spectacular five-point throw.
Betts crushed his first opponent in the 84-kilogram (185 pounds) class, beating Keitani Graham of Micronesia 6-0, 1-0 to move on to the next round. He fell to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum when he lost his second match to Cuba's Pablo Shorey Hernandez, then watched on a backstage TV as Shorey Hernandez lost in the quarterfinals. That knocked Betts out of his first Olympics much sooner than he hoped, continuing a disheartening run of early exits for the U.S. Greco-Roman team.
Shorey Hernandez dispatched Betts 1-0, 1-0, then was pinned by Damian Janikowski of Poland. The two other Americans who competed Monday met similar fates. Dremiel Byers (120 kg/264.5 pounds) won his first match, then lost to 2011 world champion Riza Kayaalp of Turkey, who was beaten in the next round to eliminate Byers. After Ellis Coleman lost his 60 kg (132 pounds) opener to Bulgaria's Ivo Angelov, Angelov lost his next match.
Betts and Byers finished in ninth place, and Coleman was 14th. With only one wrestler left to compete, the U.S. Greco-Roman team has a 4-6 record and has not advanced anyone past the round of 16. That leaves it to perhaps the best wrestler on the roster -- Justin Lester, fifth at the world championships last year -- to salvage what has been a disappointing Olympics for the Americans.
"It was great that I got to start that way,'' Betts said. "When I saw I was the first match of the day, I thought it would be pretty neat to start with a big five-pointer like that and get everyone riled up for the rest of the day.
"The loss is tough. I was pretty confident in [Shorey Hernandez] getting to the finals, but it didn't work out. I'm disappointed.''
Betts had wrestled in a tournament of this magnitude only once before, at the 2009 world championships. He was dissatisfied with his finish there and was eager for another shot at a big stage, so he could apply everything he learned.
Graham has trained with U.S. wrestlers, including Minnesotan Jake Clark. Betts defeated him easily as his family and friends -- wearing T-shirts he designed -- snapped photos and waved a large American flag. Then came Shorey Hernandez, the 2010 world silver medalist.
Betts had split a pair of matches with the Cuban earlier this season. Monday, he hoped Shorey Hernandez had been worn out in his opening match against Iranian strongman Habibollah Akhlaghi. But Shorey Hernandez was well prepared for Betts' tactics. He won the first round 1-0 when Betts could not turn him during par terre, and he pushed Betts out of bounds for the only point he needed in the second period to sweep the match.
Betts then had to depend on Shorey Hernandez to keep winning. If he had made it to the finals, Betts would have wrestled again, with a shot at a bronze medal.
"I felt like I left it all out there and pushed as hard as I could,'' Betts said. "I did get nice position a couple of times, but he was right out and away.''
U.S. Olympic coach Steve Fraser lauded Betts for his preparation, conditioning and effort. He had predicted his wrestlers were capable of winning multiple medals, but they now have a chance at only one. The Americans hoped to improve upon their Greco-Roman showings in 2008 and 2004; they won a single bronze medal at each of those Olympics.
"Obviously, we're disappointed,'' Fraser said. "We didn't come here to not win a lot of medals. But it's no easy task. It's the Olympic Games. We didn't do it, that's all I can say. We weren't good enough [Sunday and Monday], but tomorrow's a new day.''
Betts held the same outlook. "I'm not taking a medal home, but you take a lot home from this kind of thing,'' he said. "I got a lot of experience, and it's something I'll never forget for the rest of my life. That's pretty positive."