Only four Diné athletes walk away with INFR titles
By Sunnie Clahchischiligi
LAS VEGAS, Nov. 14, 2013
(Times photos - Donovan Quintero)
In the short-go performance of the 38th annual Indian National Finals Rodeo junior and senior finals, Holyan roped a calf his father Ed Holyan missed the day before, and because of it he is the new junior breakaway world champion.
"It makes me feel awesome to out-rope the nine-time world champion," Holyan said. "My dad had him but he missed that cow. I knew he was a good one."
Holyan has qualified for the INFR three times but earned his first world title last week during the INFR that was held Nov. 5-9 at the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center.
He and dozens of Navajo athletes competed in what is considered Indian rodeos biggest stage that is equivalent to the National Finals Rodeo.
Holyan said in all of his appearances at the INFR he hasn't so much as won a go-round, and to be able to finally win the world comes as a great accomplishment.
"I made it here in other years but last year I didn't make it, so that really helped me to push harder for this year," he said. "First of all I just want to thank Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior for helping me today, and the whole week and my family, and my uncle."
Holyan placed first in the opening round with a time of 3.25, fifth in the second round with a 4.06 and second in the final round with 3.08. His average was 10.39.
The INFR was home to four Navajo Nation world champions: Kassidy Dennison, barrel racing; Derrick Begay and James Begay, Jr., team roping and Sheila Sells-Denny, ladies breakaway roping.
But dozens of other Navajo contestants weren't as fortunate to earn their first title or to pick up another to add to their collection.
In the rough-stock event, Navajo bull rider Bryan Bitsui from Ganado, Ariz., finished in seventh place of the average. He only made two of the four rides. He placed ninth in the first round with a score of 73 and first in the third round with a high 87 points.
Bitsui qualified for the INFR two other times and hoped his was his year. He said he rode one bull last year and bucked off all of them the year before.
"I just get on and tried to rush myself, and I think I ride better that way," he said.
Bitsui finished with an average of 160 points.
Navajo women dominated the women's events.
Breakaway roper Bailey Bates, 20, finished 14 out of the top 15 that made it to the short round. Bates said this was the first time she qualified for the INFR, and has eyed an appearance for some time.
"I heard it was a good rodeo and I wanted to go to Las Vegas and rope," Bates said. "It's the Indian finals and I want to make it to any kind of finals."
Bates finished 14 overall. She broke the barrier in her first performance and clocked a 12.8. She came back in the third and won it with 2.42 seconds. Bates said it is hoped for a better performance but she'll let this years drive her for next season.
"I just beat myself mentally, it's just mostly a mental game," she said. "I'm already thinking about what I need to do for next year and the next rodeo coming up."
Though it's only Michael Bates, Jr.'s second year qualifying for the INFR he's shown progressive improvement. The 24-year-old Crownpoint, N.M. native placed fourth in the average with a total time of 57.35 seconds in the steer-wrestling event.
He said he made it through the week, and that was really all he could ask for.
"I just survived," he said. "I got three steers down and my first one I kind of messed up, that's what kind of ruined the whole week."
He said he played catch up the rest of the week and could only pull a fourth-place finish. His first time was a 31 seconds, second a 14.63 for 15th place, followed by 6.95 for third and 4.77 for fourth in the short go.
He said winning the world has been a goal since last season and will be until he wins it.
"That's everybody goal in the INFR, they want to be world champ. I'll try again next year," he said. "I just survived and I'll have to try to take it one steer at a time see what happens again."