LAS VEGAS — Cody De Mers and Ira Slagowski fulfilled their dreams of finally getting a chance to ride in their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Both didn't disappoint.
De Mers, a bareback rider from Boulder, Mont., and Slagowski, a saddle bronc rider from Carlin, Nev., each took home $14,335 after their first-place rides in front of a capacity crowd of 17,560 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
They were two of the big winners on the first night of the 10-round Wrangler NFR, the world's premier rodeo. Only the top 15 contestants in each of rodeo's events qualified for the event, which will crown world champions at its conclusion on Dec. 14.
De Mers, a former college all-around champion, scored 87 points on Sankey Rodeo's Firecracker. He moved up four places to fourth place in the Jack Daniel's World Standings.
"There were quite a few jitters," De Mers said. "It didn't really hit me until today. It was just kind of a dream, and I don't know if I have woken up yet."
Slagowski, who hails from a small town about 350 miles northeast of Las Vegas, became the first Nevadan since Dan Filippini in 1979 to ride saddle broncs at the Wrangler NFR. Slagowski rode Korkow Rodeo's Dirty Girl for 85 points and the round victory.
"I've always thought I ought to make it here," Slagowski said. "It really makes it worth while being here in Nevada. I'm using up all the tickets each day with my friends and family close."
On the other end of the arena, a pair of nine-time Wrangler NFR veterans in Blair Burk of Durant, Okla., and steer wrestler Birch Negaard of Buffalo, S.D., claimed first-place checks in the opening round.
Burk proved to the world that he's back to 100 percent after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Oct. 30. Burk roped and tied his calf in 8.1 seconds, topping reigning world champion Fred Whitfield of Hockley, Texas, by just one tenth of a second.
Negaard moved into first place in the world standings after his 3.6-second run, which was one tenth of a second better than Cash Myers of Athens, Texas; Teddy Johnson of Checotah, Okla., and Rod Lyman of Victor, Mont.
Jesse Bail of Camp Crook, S.D., made up ground in the all-around race by winning the first round of bull riding. He scored 90 points on Flying U's Dirty Water after earlier tying for third in saddle bronc riding.
Six-time and reigning world champion team ropers Speed Williams of Amarillo, Texas, and Rich Skelton of Llano, Texas, moved one night closer to tying the all-time record for event world titles. The pair, maybe known as much for their slow starts and fast finishes at the Wrangler NFR, started out with a 4.7-second run, sharing the round title with Travis Tryan of Billings, Mont., and Matt Zancanella of Aurora, S.D.
Barrel racer Kelly Kaminski reclaimed the world standings lead Friday after a round-winning time of 14.05 seconds. Kaminski, who led the standings for most of the season, lost that advantage on the final weekend of the season to Brittany Pozzi of Victoria, Texas.