LAS VEGAS – Bareback riding can be likened to a fistfight, with animal and athlete taking blows and throwing haymakers.
While battling for his second straight world championship, Tim O’Connell has had to fight through every step of the 2017 season. It paid off to the tune of $371,416. He won the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle by $103,000 and was less than $3,000 from the earnings mark he set a year ago.
“I truly believe this one was harder to win than the first one,” said O’Connell, of Zwingle, Iowa. “There is a different approach to the year. There is a different mindset. There is a different hunger. To come here and compete against these guys, the brotherhood that we have in that locker room, the rankest horses in the world.”
He rode the rankest of them all and placed seven of 10 nights. He scored 91.5 points in Round 3 to tie the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo arena record.
“We have the best 105 horses to ever set foot in this arena and the best 15 bareback riders,” he said. “We just put a show on for everyone for the last 10 days. My hat’s off to those guys in the locker room for the last 10 days for pushing me to be the very best I can be.”
He started strong, then had to overcome a stomach illness to return to the winner’s circle. He didn’t let it slow him or shake him. He persevered, but that’s what world champions do.
“The middle of the week was a little rough for me with everything that happened,” O’Connell said. “The Lord took care of me. He put me on great draws all week. He didn’t put me on anything I couldn’t handle.
“My hat’s off to my Lord and savior.”
Hats are also off for O’Connell, who takes the gold back to Iowa for the second straight year.