An Oklahoma cowboy and cowgirl missed winning national championships Sunday by the slimmest of margins.
Tie-down roper Blair Burk of Durant and barrel racer Carlee Pierce, who was born and raised in Freedom, came about as close as two people can to winning the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo at State Fair Arena.
Being the last man standing in the tie-down roping Sunday, Burk just needed to beat Iowa cowboy's Matt Shiozawa's time of 7.7 seconds to win the National Circuit Finals championship.
A 14-time qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo, Burk had the title within his grasp when he roped his calf, dismounted from his horse and raced to tie it down.
But Burk slightly lost his balance when tying the calf, costing him one precious second, and he finished with a time of 8.3 seconds.
“Man, he had me,” said Shiozawa, who won the average in the tie-down roping at the National Finals Rodeo last year. “He really did. That calf just kind of gave him a little hiccup.”
The National Circuit Finals uses a unique format for rodeo to determine its champions. The top eight cowboys and cowgirls in the average over two rounds qualify to Sunday's final performance where everybody is given a clean slate.
Those top eight cowboys and cowgirls compete in each event in a semifinal where the top four advance to one final race or ride for the championship.
Burk said he got off to a great start in the finals.
“I got it (rope) on him fast,” Burk said of that last calf. “He just kind of moved away from me, and I kind of lost my balance and made a little bobble. I was trying to be fast. That's what you got to do.
“It's disappointing. I was in great position. You never know when you will be in that position again. I made a mistake, and that's what happens.”
Burk actually won more cash ($12,957) than Shiozawa did in the rodeo, but the champions in each event also received a $20,000 voucher for a new pick-up from the title sponsor, RAM.
Pierce posted a sizzling time of 15.08 seconds on her 12-year-old buckskin gelding, Rare Dillion, in the finals of the barrel racing to take the lead with only one rider left, two-time world barrel racing champion Brittany Pozi of Victoria, Texas.
Pozi and her palomino, Duke, sprinted to a time of 15.07 seconds to win the title. It was the second time in a month that Pierce has lost a major rodeo by 1/100th of a second. She finished second in RodeoHouston by the same margin.
Pierce, who moved from Oklahoma to Stephenville, Texas, last fall, didn't seem heartbroken by Sunday's second-place finish.
“Losing a title by a hundredth of a second, you can't complain about that. You don't even know where to fix that problem,” Pierce said. “The final four today were all NFR qualifiers from this last year, so if you get that many good horses and riders together, it's going to be tight.”
Pierce, 31, is currently No. 1 in the world this season in barrel racing and is a cinch to make her second straight NFR.
“I am going to look back and be thankful for this week,” she said. “I won a lot of money ($18,578). Oklahoma City has been great to us. It was nice to be home.”
Bulldogger Riley Duvall of Checotah also experienced some tough luck Sunday.
He was the top steer wrestler through the first two rounds in his first National Circuit Finals appearance, but he broke the barrier in the semifinals and posted a no time, failing to advance to the finals.
Other circuit champions crowned Sunday were Clay Cowan of Highmore, S.D., in steer wrestling; Bareback rider Brian Bain of Culver, Ore.; Saddle bronc rider Sam Spreadborough of Snyder, Texas; team ropers Spencer Mitchell of Colusa, Calif., and Brady Minor of Ellensburg, Wash.; and bull rider Bobby Welsh of Gillette, Wyo.