Betts takes all-Minnesota Greco-Roman final

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2012 - 9:50 AM

The St. Michael wrestler's victory at 84 kilograms extends a streak of Minnesota representation at the Games dating to 1968.

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IOWA CITY - As he came off the mat at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday night, Chas Betts looked into the stands to seek out his family and friends. The wrestler from St. Michael didn't require much time to spot them.

They were the people jumping, screaming and pumping fists, celebrating the victory that put him on the U.S. Olympic team. Betts, 25, defeated Northfield native Jordan Holm in an all-Minnesota final in the 84-kilogram Greco-Roman class, earning a spot on the team that will compete this summer in London.

In Saturday's finals, which followed a best-of-three-matches format, Betts beat Holm 1-0, 0-3, 2-0 in the first match and 2-0, 2-0 in the second, sweeping to his first Olympic berth.

Two other Minnesotans -- former Gopher C.P. Schlatter and New Ulm native Ali Bernard -- also wrestled in Saturday's finals. Schlatter lost to two-time world medalist Justin Lester for the Greco-Roman 66 kg championship, falling 0-1, 0-2 in the first match and 0-2, 2-1, 0-1 in the second. Bernard, a 2008 Olympian and heavy favorite in the women's 72 kg freestyle class, lost to Stephany Lee 1-3, 2-5 and 1-3, 0-6.

Nine classes competed Saturday night before 13,750 fans, the largest assembly of Americans ever to watch freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling. None of the finals required a third match, and two Greco-Roman winners -- Dremiel Byers and Spenser Mango -- repeated as Olympic trials champions. Byers will make his second Olympic appearance in the 120 kg class, and Mango will do the same at 55 kg.

Betts ensured that Minnesota's streak of Greco-Roman Olympians will continue. The state has put at least one wrestler on every Olympic team since 1968, and he was thrilled to be the one to keep it going -- especially when so many of his fans made the trek from Minnesota to see him.

"I've spent months overseas, training on my own," said Betts, who has been living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and has trained in Turkey, Romania and Hungary in the past year. "I moved away from my family and my wife [to train].

"It feels nice to get all that validated. It feels great. This is awesome."

Betts entered the trials as the top seed at 84 kg (185 pounds), leading a parade of five Minnesotans who competed at that weight. He won a pair of close, low-scoring matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals, while Holm wrestled aggressively in his two victories. Holm, the No. 3 seed, beat No. 2 seed Zac Nielsen of Zimmerman 2-0, 2-0 in the semifinals.

Betts and Holm -- both members of the Minnesota Storm wrestling club, coached by Dan Chandler and Brandon Paulson -- have wrestled many times. Though Betts said he felt he knew Holm's style and was well-prepared to face him, he had never competed in front of such a large crowd.

Unlike other Minnesotans who have wrestled in the raucous atmosphere of the Big Ten, Betts attended Northern Michigan to train in its Greco-Roman program. "You have to make yourself block it all out," he said. "Every time I came out, I looked for my family and my wife, then just focused on the match."

Holm won the second period of their opening match with a three-point throw. But Betts was able to subdue him during the rest of that match, using strength and control to score points late in each period. He did the same in their second match, giving Holm no opportunities while patiently finding ways to score near the end.

Schlatter competed valiantly against Lester, a four-time U.S. champion and the favorite to win. "He wrestled well," said Paulson, Schlatter's coach. "He gave it everything he had. It's disappointing, but I'm not disappointed at all in C.P."

Bernard, bronze medalist at the 2011 world championships, advanced automatically to the finals. But Lee dominated both matches, using the skills she honed as a black-belt in judo.

Betts will now prepare for the Olympics, meaning more time away from his wife, Kristi. But as he fell into the arms of a crowd of friends who made it to the arena floor -- including brother Parker, 19, also a wrestler -- he said it will feel easier now that he has reached his Olympic goal.

"It's awesome, the tradition we have in Minnesota with Greco," he said. "I couldn't be more proud to be part of it.''

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