Bareback Champ Tim O'Connell Enters Tri-State Shoot-Out On Record Pace

Calgary Stampede Tim O'Connell

Given Tim O'Connell's unprecedented success a year ago, it would be understandable if the first-time NFR gold buckle winner and PRCA season-earnings record holder experienced a brief championship hangover in 2017.

But if anything, the defending bareback riding champ has an even more impressive follow-up act in mind.

A native of Zwingle, Iowa, O'Connell has held a tight grip on the PRCA standings throughout this season, amassing $188,298.78 in earnings -- over $61,000 more than the next closest rider.

O'Connell's blistering earnings pace is already nearly $10,000 more than the amount he earned prior to the NFR last December, when he finished the year with a record season total of $374,272 on his way to the gold buckle.

This week, he has a chance to not only add $10K to his impressive season tally but also to grab another win in front of a home-state crowd filled with family and friends at the Tri-State Rodeo CINCH Shoot-Out in Fort Madison, Iowa, on Wednesday.

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"If you think about money too much, it really takes the fun out of the sport," O'Connell told Montana Sports earlier this summer. "You got to have a true passion and love for this game to do what we do and stay out here as long as we do -- you know, away from your families, away from your significant others, your children.

"The money's a driving aspect, but if you're only here for the money, you're here for the wrong reasons."

Headlined by the top-ranked O'Connell, the Tri-State Rodeo CINCH Shoot-Out has brought together the top three bareback riders in the world, including No. 2-ranked Tanner Aus ($127,681.69) and No. 3 Wyatt Denny ($109,353.46).

Ty Breuer (14th), Winn Ratliff (32nd), Tyler Scales (45th), and Joel Schlegal will also be vying for the title.

But even as O'Connell prepares to face a star-studded field in Fort Madison, he can be forgiven for briefly looking down the road to his No. 1 goal.

Last week, the 25-year-old posted a reminder on his Facebook page of the "99 days" left on the schedule before he can defend his NFR title, which he won in December by a 27-point margin. On his 10 rides, O'Connell totaled 842 points and took home the second-most earnings of any NFR contestant with $195,308.

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A month later, O'Connell was introduced as world champion for the first time to the crowd at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

It's a moment O'Connell will never forget.

"I got goosebumps the first time I heard that," he told NFR Insider's Susan Kanode. "That gold buckle means so much to me, but with it comes a certain responsibility. Last year I worked hard to earn the buckle. Now I need to show everyone how much it means to me in and out of the arena."

O'Connell's defense of his championship has included a string of wins this summer, including back-to-back victories at the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo in Garden City, Kansas, on May 25 and at U.S. Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Ultimate Challenge in Rosenberg, Texas, on May 27.

Both wins were fueled by 90-plus point scores from O'Connell, including a career-high 92-point ride in Garden City.

Two months later, O'Connell's hot streak continued at the "Daddy of 'em All," the Cheyenne Frontier Days. Following a final ride of 87 points, he captured the bareback riding title for the first time at the CFR -- an achievement he ranks among his most cherished.

"It's got to be right up there," he told WyoSports following his victory. "This is just one of the most prestigious events in the world. … If you take out the average and the world title, this would probably be one of the biggest wins of my career."


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