Cowboys and cowgirls across the country are putting on their boots and sharpening their spurs to gear up for the International Finals Rodeo championship, which will be held Thursday through Saturday at State Fair Park.
It is a year of changes for IFR as the brains behind the rodeo aim for a more viewer-friendly experience. Big-screen monitors have been installed to provide instant replays, and the plan is to capture the excitement and atmosphere inherent in other sporting events to give attendees more entertainment value for their dollar.
To qualify for IFR, contestants were given the opportunity to compete in as many as 300 IPRA-sanctioned rodeos held across North America throughout 2007. Some competed in more than 100. Shawnee's Nathan Tull, currently ranked first in the bull-riding category, participated in 49.
Like many rodeo competitors, Tull first gained interest in riding as a child, when his grandfather took him to his hometown rodeo every summer. Such rodeos are prevalent throughout the state, making them an important part of Oklahoma's culture.
"I think in Oklahoma, rodeo's kind of a tradition," he said. "It's like Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas are kind of the heart of rodeo. It's where everybody starts. I think it's just a really popular sport. You won't meet very many people in Oklahoma who have never been to a rodeo." "Chris Willard