Veteran tie-down roper Mike Johnson just seems to get better with age.
The 40-year-old cowboy from Henryetta, Okla., produced the best season of his career in 2003 and capped it off by winning the aggregate title at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, posting an impressive 10-head time of 86.4 seconds. He finished the year with $173,489 and wound up No. 4 in the world standings.
Johnson hasn't missed a beat in 2004, picking up where he left off at the end of 2003. He won the aggregate title at Santa Maria, Calif., and the $50,000 bonus round at the Calgary Stampede.
The Oklahoma cowboy didn't let his home-state fans down during the Oklahoma State Fair Rodeo (Sept. 24-26) in Oklahoma City, capturing the tie-down roping aggregate title in dominating fashion.
Johnson won the first round and the final round with runs of 7.8 and 9.2 seconds respectively, to post a three-head time of 26.3 seconds. He earned $5,493 for the victory — more than any other cowboy at the rodeo.
The victory pushed Johnson's earnings for the year to $95,386 (not counting the $50,000 Calgary prize money). He's sitting No. 5 in the Jack Daniel's World Standings, about $22,000 behind world leader Blair Burk (Durant, Okla.). Johnson has virtually locked up a trip to his 19th Wrangler NFR, which would equal the record set by tie-down roping legend Roy Cooper.
While Johnson had to be pleased with his performance at the rodeo, not to mention throughout the year, he was especially happy he was able to win a big rodeo close to home.
"This rodeo is always so fast. It's tough to come in here and win," Johnson said. "I am very fortunate today to come out with a win. I've placed here through the years, but never expected to win this rodeo."
Johnson said he loves to compete in Oklahoma City because it brings out the best in the competition.
"The times are always extremely fast here. I don't know why," Johnson said. "It's the normal setup like anywhere else in the indoor arenas. It seems like Bennie [stock contractor Bennie Beutler] brings good calves and everybody brings their best here. It makes for very good watching."
Johnson said he was fortunate that everything fell right for him in Oklahoma City.
"I drew real good," Johnson said. "There are calves in this herd that will eliminate you and all the people who make the short go seem to draw around those.
"Today I drew a good calf and there were some tough calves out today. There were a few that kicked and some guys had bad luck. That softens it up a little bit. Normally, a 9.2 would not place but the way things went today I was just hoping to get a clean run without a mistake."
One of the keys to Johnson's success this year, not to mention last year, is his horse, Levi.
"He is the best part of my team," Johnson said. "He is 11 years old and the last couple of years he has been really doing outstanding. He's just been doing great work and it makes my job easier."
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