LAS VEGAS — Cody Ohl (Stephenville, Texas) stole the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo show on Sunday in front of 17,683 at Thomas & Mack Center, setting a world record of 6.5 seconds in the tie-down roping and winning the world championship in the most dramatic of fashions.
Ohl, who missed most of last season after reconstructive knee surgery, won the go-round and finished second in the 10-round average to win the fourth world tie-down roping title of his career. He also was the world all-around champion in 2001.
He finished the season with $212,366; $11,710 ahead of defending world champion (and Ohl's best friend) Fred Whitfield (Hockley, Texas), who finished second with $200,656 and was in position to win the world until Ohl's record run.
"I had to go at it as hard as I could because I knew what Fred was going to do," Ohl said of his record run. "We were best friends before we rope and we're best friends after we rope.
"Rivalry, it's what its all about. It's a great rivalry. He came and found me after I did my last interview today and said 'Man, you deserved it. You roped better than I did today.' We just hugged and that's how it goes. We'll start over in January and see how it goes."
Fellow tie-down roper Trevor Brazile (Decatur, Texas), who won his second consecutive all-around title, also praised Ohl and the way he came back this season after the injury.
"He epitomizes the cowboy way. He fought back from nothing to do what they said he couldn't do," Brazile said. "My hat's off to him. I couldn't be happier for him."
Brazile cruised to the all-around title, building a big lead coming into the Wrangler NFR and winning a combined $75,938 in tie-down and team roping to clinch the title. He had wrapped things up by the ninth round.
"I think it hushed the non-believers about my performance last year," the 27-year-old Brazile said.
Team roping, as usual, belonged to Speed Williams (Amarillo, Texas) and Rich Skelton (Llano, Texas) who won their seventh consecutive world championship, equaling the all-time record for world titles held by Jake Barnes (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Clay O'Brien Cooper (Glen Rose, Texas).
"It's a fairy tale to come here year after year for seven years and not have a bad finals," Williams said. "The seventh world title means a lot. To tie Jake and Clay's record, knowing that no roper in the world has more gold buckles than me and Rich do, it's a great honor."
Williams said when he started roping, he tried to emulate Barnes, who ended up second in the world standings with his new partner Allen Bach, keeping the pressure on Williams and Skelton right up to the final run.
"That's who you admired, that's who you watched," he said. "Just like I told him today when we were sitting and talking, shoot, I copied a lot of things he done, I studied the way they roped, I studied the way they put their runs together. I admire the man & I have nothing but respect for the man."
So did having Barnes applying the pressure make this world title more special?
"If I said no, it would be a lie," Williams said.
Williams and Skelton weren't the only ones to tie a legendary mark. Saddle bronc rider Dan Mortensen (Billings, Mont.) won his sixth world championship to tie the late Casey Tibbs for the most world titles in the event.
Mortensen edged defending world champion Glen O'Neill in the average and ended up winning the world by just over $4,000. He finished with $219,999 while O'Neill won $215,574.
Last year, O'Neill edged Mortensen in the final go-round to win the world.
"Coming in today it was the same position Glen and I were in last year," Mortensen said. "It came down to a one header and whoever came out on top would win the world. It couldn't have got any closer than what it did today."
On tying Tibbs, considered by many to be the greatest bronc rider of all time, Mortensen was thrilled.
"It feels great," he said. "Casey Tibbs did a lot for the sport of rodeo. The marks that he set and the records that he achieved will never be taken away from him. He's done so much for the sport. His legacy will live on forever."
In bull riding, Terry Don West (Henryetta, Okla.) the 1996 world champion, completed his dominating season with the world championship.
Beaten and bruised, West was bucked off his bull in the final round, but still finished second in the average and posted a single-season earnings record of $211,879.
"It feels good," he said. "I am sore right now. My head hurts, my wrist hurts, my elbow hurts and my foot hurts. I'm just dealing with the pain right now. [The world title] is something I worked hard for all year. It all paid off. You have to deal with the pain. That's part of bull riding."
Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas) wrapped up the bareback world championship on Friday, but he was still thrilled after it became official on Sunday.
"It feels really good," the 21-year-old said. "I never dreamed that anything like this would happen so soon. I just hope I can come back time in and time out like Clint [Corey] and Larry [Sandvick] and Mark [Gomes] and those guys."
Lowe had a dominating season, finishing with $188,246 to beat second-place Cody Jesse (Prineville, Ore.) by $23,180. Though he didn't win a go-round, Lowe still won $50,867 at the NFR to seal his victory.
He also broke the single-season earnings record in bareback, surpassing the $185,556 won by Lan LaJeunesse (Morgan, Utah) in 2001.
"I keep thinking I need to pinch myself a couple times to make sure it is true," he said.
Another gold buckle is going home to the steer wrestling capital of the world.
Teddy Johnson (Checotah, Okla.) used a second-place finish in the average to edge Birch Negaard (Buffalo, S.D.) by less than $4,000 in the final world standings.
Johnson joins such rodeo legends as Hall of Famers Ote Berry and Roy Duvall as world champions from Checotah.
He joked that this world championship is a relief.
"They all expect me to [win the world title] because I'm around the legends from way back when and I rodeo with them. You get in a position that you want to do it so you don't have to listen to them anymore," he said. "They're all pulling for me and I didn't want to screw it up."
Johnson had few bumps in his road to the world title. He won the sixth and seventh go-rounds and tied for second in the first. He also turfed every steer, keeping himself in the hunt for the average. When it came to his run in the 10th round, he knew exactly what had to happen for him to win the world.
"It all came down to one run in the average," he said. "If I was 4.6, Birch had to be a second quicker than that to just get ahead of me in the average. I had a better steer so it all worked out."
Still, Johnson gave credit to his fellow bulldoggers from Checotah, which include Berry, Roy Duvall and Sam Duvall among others.
"I practice with all those guys & it's like being at a world finals in the practice pen because they're all great," he said. "It really helped me."
Janae Ward (Addington, Okla.), a third-generation barrel racer, captured the world championship with a dominating NFR performance.
She won first place in the average and $111,908 in the rodeo, surging from 14th place to first in the course of 10 days. Her season total was $155,792.
"It might hit me in a couple of weeks, but right now there is no way to describe it," the 21-year-old Ward said. "This is what little girls dream about their whole lives. This is great. This is amazing."
Even more amazing is that Ward almost stopped competing halfway through the rodeo season and focus on her school work at Oklahoma State University.
"After Cheyenne, I headed home," she said. "It just so happened that Jud Little, who owns this mare [that she rode to the title] lives 50 miles from me and needed a rider. It was just the right place at the right time."
Guy Clifton covers rodeo for the Reno Gazette-Journal. He can be reached at 775.788.6337 or email@example.com.