LAS VEGAS -- It was a race unlike any the sport of bull riding has ever seen.
Over the course of 10 months, Kody Lostroh battled J.B. Mauney and Guilherme Marchi one event after another, from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again.
Between them they won 11 of 31 Built Ford Tough Series events. They were the only three riders in the Top 40 who had ridden more than 60 percent of their bulls. Only Lostroh and Mauney had been atop the world standings at any point in the season, but it was Lostroh who arrived in Las Vegas having been ranked No. 1 for the past 20 events.
Yet at the onset of the 2009 PBR World Finals, the trio was separated by just 785 points.
It was as if every time Lostroh looked poised to separate himself from the other two, either Mauney or Marchi would step up to the challenge.
Was there any reason to think Las Vegas would be different?
"I just gotta see that eye of the tiger from (Lostroh) a little bit," said Justin McBride, during the first round. "This World Finals is going to be very telling. I want to see him put his foot on their throats and not let them have a breath."
Ten days later, a look at the Colorado cowboy's stats show he did just that.
Lostroh outright won two rounds (the fourth and fifth) and split a third (the sixth) in a five-way tie (a first in PBR history), and, of course, he rode seven of eight bulls, including four rides for 90 points or more.
He did just about everything anyone could expect of him. In the end, he claimed the title by the slimmest of margins — 594 points.
"Every year somebody has exposed something," Justin McKee said, "might not be their throat, but they're bleeding somewhere, and J.B.'s not. He's just as strong, just as powerful and just as confident as Kody Lostroh."
In fact, after three rounds, Ty Murray said, "The guy whose throat he's trying to step on won't present his throat.
"Kody Lostroh is doing everything in the world to dominate far and away the competition, but there's just one little thing stopping that from happening and that's J.B. Mauney. They're both trying to stand on each other's throat and it's not clear who's winning."
Make no mistake: Lostroh won.
The 24-year-old is the 2009 World Champion. When he came down off of Voodoo Child shy of the whistle in the short go, there wasn't anyone who could question his toughness or dedication.
"Kody doesn't have a weakness," Cody Lambert, PBR livestock director and one of the organization's original founders, said. "The only weakness anyone ever questioned him on was the injury to his riding arm, and he's shown us over and over and over again that that's not going to be an issue."
"There's going to be a heck of a lot more people believing in Kody Lostroh post-World Finals then there was pre-World Finals," said Murray, who added that the battle between Lostroh and Mauney was what being a cowboy is all about.
They each took what they were dealt and defined the moment, rather than letting the moment define them.
As close as it was heading into the final two rounds last Sunday afternoon, Lostroh never wavered from the strategy he employed throughout the season.
He wasn't calculating points and averages. He wasn't worried about how many bulls his competition rode. For the record, Mauney became the first man to ever ride all eight.
"I'm here to ride my bulls," Lostroh said. "That's the main objective, and anytime you can win on top of that — against the best guys in the world, against the best bulls in the world — it feels pretty cool."
Unfortunately, Marchi had a tough go of it and bucked off five straight before finishing with back-to-back scores. But Lostroh and Mauney provided a title race that exceeded expectations.
"None of us have seen a race like this," said Michael Gaffney, another original PBR founder.
In past years, riders have had the title already won by the time they even set foot inside the Thomas & Mack Center — Chris Shivers won his first title in 2000 in spite of bucking off all five bulls at the Finals — and other times they've needed just a few rounds to solidify the title.
"We've wanted to see a race like this, and that's why we made a change in the point system, back a few years ago," Gaffney said. "This is exactly what we envisioned."
Added McBride, "That's what sports are about to me. When you see somebody good at what they do take the chance to be great at it. They don't just try and win. They try to be great at it."
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