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Mission accomplished

9/2/2009

It's been nearly 30 years since Al Michaels first asked the question, "Do you believe in miracles?" when an undersized, overmatched U.S. hockey team stunned the world by winning gold at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.

J.W. Hart believed Sunday evening in Barretos, Sao Pualo, Brazil, when he asked his United States bull riding team to pull off a come-from-behind victory over the heavily favored Brazilians in the 2009 PBR World Cup.

"Their mothers aren't as proud of 'em as I am right now," said an obviously elated Hart, U.S. team captain.

"These guys did it and did it with class, they did it with heart and they simply amazed everybody that was watching. For the inexperience these guys carried down here, it's unbelievable how they stood up to the challenge and won," Hart said.

22 year-old, J.B. Mauney was the lone American with any Cup experience.

Then, there were Ryan Dirteater, 20, and Ryan McConnel, 22 — two relative newcomers who, this time last year, were just emerging as professionals and trying to establish themselves as legitimate Top 40 riders on the Built Ford Tough Series.

Only this year has 22-year-old team member Austin Meier shed more than 20 pounds, begun working out vigorously and taken advantage of the enormous potential he displayed in 2006 when he was runner-up for the Daisy Rookie of the Year title.

And, of course, there's Zack Brown, who returned to bull riding less than two years ago after he retired from the sport following a near-death wreck in Billings, Mont., in 2005.

PBR world standings leader Kody Lostroh passed on a chance to represent his country in order to focus on winning his first world title. Two-time World Champion Chris Shivers initially considered making the trip to South America until he realized the Cup event was the same weekend as a lower-level event carrying his name. Then, just last week, Brian Canter bowed out of the competition because of a knee injury that threatens his chance at contending for a world title.

"This has got to be as big as (winning) a World Championship," said McConnel, soon after hoisting the World Cup trophy with his teammates. "I guarantee you that it means everything to us."

Team USA didn't seem a match for a Brazilian team that featured four riders currently ranked in the Top 10 in the world standings — Guilherme Marchi, Valdiron de Oliveira, Robson Palermo and Renato Nunes.

But, for the Americans, it wasn't about what they didn't have. It was about the title they came to defend in hostile territory.

Their World Cup win for the ages began to take shape on Sunday in the fifth round with three scores. The Brazilians managed only two, and their 86.25-point advantage was cut to less than one point.

"It's always good to be good," Hart said, "but it helps to be a little bit lucky, and today the cards fell in our favor to where when one guy stumbled, the next guy took his slack up. Today the Brazilian team stumbled just a little bit, and it was just the opening we were looking for."

The rambunctious, standing-room-only crowd fell silent after Dirteater covered his final bull for 84 points, to give his team the lead for the first time in the event. Brazilian Juarez Terra Silva then bucked off.

Meier and Robson Palermo both followed with no scores in the second flight of the final round before Brown gave the Americans a commanding two-score lead. His 87.25-point effort was followed by a buck-off by Marchi.

With just two riders remaining for each team, Hart pulled McConnel aside.

"We had two chances to seal it," Hart recalled, "and I grabbed him back of the vest and I said, 'I hate to put the whole weight of the United States of America on your shoulders, but if you stay on this bull they cannot beat us. We win.'"

"Every time we bucked off one it was loud, and every time we rode one it was just totally silent," McConnel said. "When he come up behind me and said, 'If you ride, we win,' well, it was huge."

"He was like, 'Oh hell, don't tell me that,'" Hart said.

McConnel, who last year only competed in the World Finals as an alternate, clinched the victory with 88 points. Valdiron de Oliveira's 89-point effort in the waning moments was futile.

"If this weekend doesn't stand for the future these guys have," said Hart, "people have got to be crazy.

"These guys stood up to 70,000 screaming fans who hated them and withstood the pressure, did what they were supposed to do and stuck it on some rank bulls and persevered through it when all odds were against them coming into today."

Mauney, who, at five-of-six, led all competitors, was named MVP of the World Cup. The Carolina native will now turn his attention toward trying to overtake Lostroh with just six BFTS events remaining before the Finals.

"When you have pressure on you it makes you do things right," Mauney said, "and I like having pressure on me because it makes me try harder. It's funny, some guys buckle and I think it makes me ride better."

Mauney wasn't the only rider to come through for his country.

The U.S. actually had three of the Top 5 scorers — Mauney, 439.50; McConnel, 431.75 and Dirteater, 342 — among the 24 competing. Mauney and McConnel led the way with Dirteater in fifth. Oliveira was third, while Australian rookie Pete Farley was fourth. Scott Schiffner, who covered four of six for 341.50, led all Canadians.

Check in with www.pbrnow.com throughout the week for continued coverage and follow up stories regarding the World Cup.