By: Kendra Santos
Tonight’s the night. The Gold Medal Round at the $562,500 Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City. The champs will cash checks for $25,000, and the coveted gold medals will be placed around their happy necks. Three-time World Champion Bareback Rider Tim O’Connell punched his ticket to tonight’s grand finale with the high ride of the week when he racked up 88 big ones on the back of Sankey Pro Rodeo’s Shout in Shoes on Saturday night. It’s a busy week for the Zwingle, Iowa cowboy and everyone running the rodeo roads right now. But he’s way too wise to miss out on a chance like this one.
“I’m here for the great horses, great payout and great fans,” said O’Connell, who lives in Zwingle with his wife, Sami, and their two baby boys, Hazen and Stratten. “We get to pick what we get on, and we feed off of energy like this.”
O’Connell had big props for Sankey’s Shout in Shoes, and the packed house at Utah State Fairpark, which is treated to a spectacular fireworks show at each perf’s end.
“I got on that horse six weeks ago at the Riggin’ Rally in Darby (Montana),” said O’Connell, who’s 30 now and won three straight gold bareback riding buckles from 2016-18. “The hardest part is drawing her. She’s a round win in the 1 and 2 pens (at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo). She’s so good, and kicks every jump. She’s high 80s/low 90s every time.”
Tim and Shout in Shoes were 88 in Darby, and again here at Days of ’47. It’s fun seeing the 2013 Resistol Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year back to his old superstar self. O’Connell had his tailbone removed about a year ago on August 23, 2021, and there was a learning curve that followed to find his old form.
“I had that surgery 100 days before opening night at the NFR last year, and I wasn’t myself for six or seven months,” O’Connell said. “My body basically had to learn a new end to my spine. I wasn’t able to get under my riggin’ at first, like I always had. I really roll my hips under my handle, and my buckle points toward the sky when I ride. After the surgery, I was fighting my own style. Now I’m back to what I was doing before, because my sacrum (the triangular bone just below the lumbar vertebrae) is finally calcified over, and my body understands that’s my new tailbone.”
With a full run of rodeos rolling on far and near, O’Connell made a point of doing whatever it took to take in the Days of ’47.
“I’m here to try to win that $25,000, and the idea of winning three in a row and winning a million dollars (the Triple Crown of Rodeo bonus is available to any athlete(s) who wins three straight WCRA majors) is too good to take a pass on,” he said. “I fell short behind RC (Landingham) at (Rodeo) Corpus Christi (in May), so the race starts over right now, and here I am. I won second here at the inaugural Days of ’47, and I’ve never thought silver looked very good on me. There’s room in my trophy room for a gold medal, and that’s what I’m after.”