Chas Betts overcame a lot to earn his Olympic berth

United States Olympic wrestling team member Chas Betts has a lot of fond memories of visiting his grandparents in Osakis as a kid.

His grandma, Nona Betts, still lives in Osakis, and that’s where I caught up with Chas last Wednesday for a story that I wrote for today’s issue of The Osakis Review. Betts said he had dreams of making an Olympic roster from the time he was a young kid.

“I’d say it probably started around the time I really got into Greco, which was probably 7th or 8th grade,” he said. “I took to that style so much more than folkstyle or freestyle. I still loved those styles, but Greco was just everything to me at that point.”

From that point on, Betts did everything in his power to excel in the Greco-Roman style. He went from winning junior nationals the summer after his senior year of high school to enrolling at Northern Michigan University to train Greco full time in the U.S. Olympic Education Center program.

After graduating in 2010, he moved to Colorado Springs because it offered him the opportunity to work at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He traveled to Europe in 2011 for six weeks to learn from some of the best wrestlers in the world. All of that finally paid off when he won his 84KG/185-pound weight class at the U.S. Team Trials on April 21 to cement his spot on the Olympic team.

Just getting to the U.S. Team trials proved to be a battle. Every country has to qualify each weight class for the Olympics by finishing in the top five at qualifying tournaments leading up to the games. The U.S. qualified just one weight class at the World Championships in Turkey last September.

That put a lot of pressure on guys like Betts, who was chosen to try to qualify his weight class for the Olympics at the Pan American Qualifying Tournament this past March. He was one of five guys who accomplished that feat for the U.S after he took home a silver medal.

That would have earned him a spot on the Olympics roster in a lot of countries. In the United States, he still had to win his weight class at the U.S. Team Trials in April. Not only that, but he had only a month to prepare himself for the biggest competition of his life.

“I think that was the hardest part to accept,” Betts said. “We’ve done all this work. We’ve qualified our weights, but I still have to go to Iowa City and beat all these other guys from America that in my mind didn’t do what we did. We put in the work. That was a tough thing to get over. You finally had to say, ‘Well, that’s how it works. Let’s do it.’ ”

Getting over that was as much mental as it was physical. That’s where Betts feels he has matured the most from where he was as a wrestler a few years ago. Instead of questioning his abilities or why things are the way they are, he learned to focus on what he could do to give himself the best chance to succeed.

“There were times when it got really rough,” he said. “I never really seriously considered quitting or stepping away at all, but you always have those thoughts of, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I think the biggest thing in the last two years that I’ve done is being able to block all that out and stop doing that. I think once you’re able to do that, you can take it a lot further once you stop asking yourself those questions.”

That mental toughness is what sets Olympians apart from a lot of other athletes. These guys train 10 times a week, every week and a lot of times things don’t go their way at tournaments. Being able to persevere and get past that is a big part of what makes them the best at what they do.

“At this level in our sport, everybody is right there with each other,” Betts said. “What separates us nine times out of 10 is who’s more mentally prepared. Especially for a tournament like in Iowa City for the Olympic Trials. Crazy things happen there and you have to be completely, 100 percent prepared for that. I think I did a good job getting ready mentally for that tournament.”