LONDON - Since they were married in June 2011, Chas and Kristi Betts rarely have spent more than a long weekend together. That is the cost of pursuing a place on the Olympic team -- particularly in a sport such as Greco-Roman wrestling, where Americans must travel overseas to find the training and competition they need to excel.
Their two-week honeymoon was the last time they were together for more than a few days. That also marked the only time Chas has taken an extended break from his sport, and it helped him move past a nagging injury and get back on the road toward his first Olympic team. Those 10 days of relaxing on a Jamaican beach -- combined with years of toil on the mat and in the weight room -- laid the foundation for Betts' victory over fellow Minnesotan Jordan Holm at the U.S. Olympic trials, earning him a spot on the Olympic team at 84 kilograms (185 pounds).
Betts, of St. Michael, returned to training too early after surgery for a sports hernia in 2011. A wrestler's first instinct is always to push through the pain and keep working, but his marriage and honeymoon forced him to stop training and start healing properly. From that point on, it was full speed ahead. Monday, Betts will face Keitani Graham of Micronesia in his opening match of the Olympic tournament. If he wins, he would wrestle the winner of the match between 2010 world silver medalist Pablo Shorey of Cuba and 2009 world bronze medalist Habibollah Akhlaghi of Iran.
"When I came back, I felt brand new," said Betts, 26, a member of the national team since 2009. "Everything's gone great since then, and it's awesome how things have paid off."
Kristi Betts has watched it all unfold, if usually from a distance. She lives in the Twin Cities, where she works for an accounting firm. Chas is based at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. He remains a member of the Minnesota Storm Greco-Roman club, led by coaches Dan Chandler and Brandon Paulson.
But to compete and win at the Olympic and world championship level, Betts needs time with the elite training partners he can only find in Colorado Springs or on other countries' national teams. In the past year, he has trained in Turkey, Hungary and Romania.
"If Chas wants something, he will put his heart and soul into it," said Kristi, who is among nine relatives and friends in London to watch Chas compete. "I have never seen him give up on anything."
Betts discovered the Greco-Roman style in fifth grade. In Greco, wrestlers rely on upper-body strength and cannot use holds below the waist. Betts tended toward that style naturally and began winning state titles.
At St. Michael-Albertville High School, he won both individual and team titles his senior year, but he chose not to compete at the NCAA level. Betts was offered a place in the U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan University, where he could train and compete in Greco-Roman while attending college.
In 2008, Betts finished fourth at the Olympic trials. That experience prepared him for a bigger stage, and a year later, he defeated 2008 Olympian T.C. Dantzler to make the U.S. team that competed at the world championships. But he lost in the finals of the world team trials in 2010 and was third in 2011, when he was slowed by his injury. U.S. Greco-Roman coach Steve Fraser said his work since then has made Betts ready for the Olympics.
"He is probably the best-conditioned, most aggressive wrestler in his weight class," Fraser said. "This is his strength. He's not real flashy with a lot of great techniques. But the techniques he has are very solid, and he's tough. He needs to have confidence in the style he's developed. If he believes in that and stays with it, he has great potential to achieve his dreams here."
At least one wrestler from Minnesota has made every Olympic Greco-Roman team since 1968, and Betts ensured that streak will continue. He and Kristi both said that makes their time apart a sacrifice they will never regret.
"In 2009, I didn't do well at the world championships," he said. "I was pretty overwhelmed. I wanted another shot, and I'm a lot better prepared now. I'm ready for this."