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Red-blooded American

8/24/2009

In 2008, J.W. Hart captained the United States team to a victory in Mexico at the Professional Bull Riders World Cup. He's back this year for another go-round, but with a much different cast of characters in a decidedly foreign setting — Barretos, Brazil, home turf of the rival Brazilian team captained by Adriano Moraes. ESPN.com caught up with Hart to get his thoughts on the Aug. 28-30 event.

ESPN.com: Being the captain of a U.S. national team going to an international event must be pretty special. Does it compare with anything else that you've done in your career?

J.W. Hart: Well, I rode bulls for 20 years and I rode professionally for 15 of those 20. I won a lot of awards — I won the PBR Finals, the Calgary Stampede, the Houston Rodeo — a lot of big bull ridings around the world. I've been to Brazil. I've been to Mexico, Canada, Australia to bull ridings…but last year was my first year to be the captain of the [PBR United States] bull riding team. This is a way to kind of keep being able to compete, really, and this is really our Olympics. We have it every year instead of every four years, but it was really special to go and to be able to win last year. To be able to go this year and be the defending champs has sure put the pressure on us, and it truly is an experience I can't explain. It's completely different from riding bulls and competing. It's a whole new deal and I really do enjoy it.

ESPN.com: How long are you guys going to be in the country?

Hart: I think we're going to be there just about six days, seven days; we're going to leave on a Tuesday, we'll come back on a Monday.

ESPN.com: Are you worried about how the long-distance travel to a foreign country is going to affect the condition of your riders?

Hart: The travel I'm not too worried about, the event doesn't start until Friday. So, they'll have plenty of time to rest and get their days and nights straightened back out. These guys travel a lot anyway, and go to a lot of bull ridings and rodeos, so the travel for them ain't too bad. The language barrier is what I have my biggest problem with. I mean, we'll be down there in a country that, really, are not going to want us to win, just to be matter-of-fact about it. The wonder is if they'll tell us what these bulls do, and if they do what they say they're going to do.

We've got to try to cross that language barrier. But, that's the same problem they have when they come here, understanding what our guys say in English. It'll be ok, we'll go down there and we'll find a good translator that'll get things across. We have video of bulls that just came in the mail today, so we'll know what we're getting into.

ESPN.com: Are you excited about it, nervous — how are you feeling personally?

Hart: I'm excited and nervous. You know, there's been a lot of hype put on this World Cup. We've been to Brazil before, but it's never been really pitted between the USA and Brazil like it is this year. With bull riding and rodeo being the number two event right behind soccer down there, there's going to be 70 to 80,000 people in these stands all at one time, and if we go and win it, you never know what's going to happen. I'm excited to go, it's a great place, the bulls down there are supposed to be really good, so it should be good watching and I can't wait to go — we've finally got to it and I can't wait to go.

ESPN.com: What's the difference between the stock down there and what the guys are used to riding in the PBR?

Hart: There is a little bit of difference. It's been 15 years since I've been there, but from what I've seen, a lot of the bulls have the Brahma influence, which ours don't have as much. Ours are more of an athletic type bull, but still have a little bit of the Brahma in them. They spend just a touch more time in the air than our bulls do, but the bulls that are on this video that I've gotten to see don't look a whole lot different than ours. So I think we'll fare ok, actually. Their bulls are still really good, they're just not quite the caliber of our championship bulls.

ESPN.com: How do you feel about the team that's going down there?

Hart: If you would have asked me three months ago, I would have told you we were 90 percent going to go down there and win. If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have said our chances of going down there and winning were 40 percent. And now, I think our chances of going down and winning are 70 percent.

Our team's starting to come back together. The guys are back up on that upswing of doing good and being confident and healthy. And Brazil is kind of starting in a downward slide just a touch. They've got a couple guys hurt, a guy or two not riding real good right now, which can always change in a day's notice. I really look for us to win this time and I like our odds right now better than I did a month ago.

ESPN.com: Realistically, is this a "U.S. v. Brazil" head-to-head matchup?

Hart: Well, I hate to say that nobody else has a chance because, by all rights, everybody who's going has a shot and a really good shot. I think, just from years past, and the guys who are on tour right now, I think the big challenge is going to be Brazil and the USA, but Canada has proven the last two years that they're not to be denied or forgotten about either, so we've got to keep a close eye on them, too.

ESPN.com: Where do the other teams fit into the mix in terms of talent?

Hart: You know, there's great bull riders in all the countries.

ESPN.com: Essentially, when you're picking your team, you're trying to make a prediction as to how these guys are going to be doing months in the future — do you think the team selections should be made closer to the actual event?

Hart: No, I like the process of having it a couple months in advance. We get to pick enough guys — we're taking five guys and we get to pick eight there in the beginning just in case we want to alternate somebody or a passport or a visa doesn't come through or someone gets hurt or a family emergency, we have those backups to go. So, we have a little bit of leniency. We pick who's hot right then. And we can pick two or three who we think are going to be hot or healthy by the time it comes around and we can re-evaluate it the week before we leave.

ESPN.com: How do you make a team out of a bunch of guys who are normally competing against each other on tour?

Hart: In all actuality, those guys are going to do their deal. They're going to stick their hand in the rope. They're going to pull it just the same way they do every day. They're going to ride just the way they do every day and leave the decision of the team part of it to me and let me figure out what score to keep, what score to drop and figure out what guy to put on what bull.

You know, I'll converse with them. We'll get a list of bulls and I'll go, ok, 'This bull fits J.B. Mauney's style the best and this bull right here fits Zack Brown the best and this bull right here will fit Ryan McConnel the best,' and we'll put them guys on them. From that point on, their job is not only to make the whistle, but to root for the guys that's on their team when they're not riding. But, for all the decision making of re-rides and keeping scores and turning scores down, and things like that will be left to me and trying to take that off their shoulders. We'll try to keep it as natural for them as we can.

ESPN.com: How do you feel about going up against Adriano as a team captain — does personal pride and ego factor into this at all?

Hart: Well, me and him have been friends for a long time. Over the years, we've had our arguments, and we know how to push each others' buttons. We know how to get under each others' skin.

With us being the team captains, it's almost like a championship fight where we're both trying to agitate the other one so he'll make a mistake. We're pushing each others' buttons, but deep down, we're both friends. We both respect each other a great deal, but when it all boils down, the bottom line is, I'm a red-blooded American and me and my team, Team USA, are going down there with all intentions of bringing it back.

ESPN.com: Are you going to be expecting Adriano to help you guys out while you're down there at all, or is this just a simple rivalry between the two of you?

There's a rivalry between the two of us. We never had much of a rivalry while we were riding bulls, but since we're both captains, and the World Cup has come so much into the picture here, we have become arch rivals. I think it's good for the sport.

But also, just like when we were in Mexico last year, when [the Brazilians] drew their bulls, there were a couple bulls they didn't know and they came and asked us — the American team — what we knew about them. And we told them — we didn't lie to them — what we knew about the bulls. I expect the same from them when we're down there and I ask Adriano about a bull. I'll believe everything he says. Neither one of us is going to cheat each other or lie to each other or the other team. We'll be fair and if we can beat them we'll beat them. If we can't, we'll shake their hands at the end and be proud of them.