Rodeo part of Cultural Olympiad

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- A calf-roper from Mount Vernon, Ark., is part of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

It appears an anomaly among all the lugers, skiers and skaters.

That's the design.

Ricky Hyde, a four-time world finalist in calf-roping in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, is participating in the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo at nearby Farmington. That's part of the Cultural Olympiad, a collection of 70 events crossing traditional cultural lines arranged by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to enhance the Olympic experience.

While skiers are whipping down slopes and sliders are zipping down runs, Hyde is part of an all-star American team that is dueling in the dust in a five-event rodeo against counterparts from Canada. Senator Orin Hatch, of Utah, was among the special guests at the first performance Saturday.

Like the official Olympians, Hyde had to qualify. The top five in each event were chosen after their finishes at selected rodeos. Hyde actually finished second in his rodeo in Dallas and was an alternate.

Then, the winner (Shan Smith) was injured.

Hyde received the call and the question last Wednesday: "Do you want to go to the Olympics?"

"Didn't take me long to answer," he said.

Unlike many of the traditional Winter Olympians, he didn't exactly get here in lavish style. He and his wife, Jennifer (who won has won her share of buckles in barrel racing), and their 2-year-old son, Kaden, traveled 1500 miles from Mount Vernon to Salt Lake in a camper hauling a trailer carrying his trusty mare, "Rat."

The organizers of the rodeo pay for lodging here. There's a $20,000 purse for each event.

Such is rodeo life.

"It's a long way, but we know how to travel; I think we know every camping spot where you can put a horse up in the country," he said.

Actually, Hyde is extremely familiar with Utah.

"This is really big rodeo country up here," he said. "I spend a lot of time up here on the circuit. During the summer, there are rodeos here just about every stop on the interstate and they are good rodeos. Everybody trying to qualify for the national finals in Las Vegas is up here during the summer."

But with the world spotlight on the Winter Olympics, the juxtaposition of the European alpine culture and the traditional American cowboy culture is stark.

"There are a lot different people up here now than what you will see in July," he said. "A lot of people here know don't know much about rodeo and cowboys and what we do. You wear a cowboy hat around now and somebody will ask you what that's all about."

In fact, the cultural clash has produced the biggest protest thus far at the Olympics. Animal rights activists, proclaiming that rodeo represents cruelty to animals, have demonstrated at every performance.

"It's made it a different experience," Hyde said, "but I don't really want to comment on the protests. The PRCA has people to make the official statements on that. I don't want to say the wrong thing. I will say I don't do nothing intentionally to hurt an animal."

Because the rodeo, which ended Monday night, had three performances a day, Hyde hasn't had much time to soak up the atmosphere of the Winter Games.

"Most of the time we've been here in Farmington doing rodeo," he said. "We did go to Olympic Park the other day and got some souvenirs and looked around. I'm glad to be part of this and be one of five U.S. cowboys chosen to represent this country in my event.

"And because of the summer circuit, I know a lot of people in this area and it's good to visit with them."

Hyde tied for first after the initial go-round of his event Saturday night. Sunday, "I just had an uncooperative calf," he said.

Hyde's father-in-law is Freeman Isaacs, a former basketball coach has won his share of rodeo honors. His mother-in-law is Debbie Isaacs, a decorated barrel-racer.

So, the rodeo life has deep roots.

After the Olympic rodeo concluded late Monday night, Hyde loaded his horse and packed his trailer and headed from the international glare to the real world. "Got to be in Houston by Wednesday," he said. "Another rodeo."

(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the 2002 Winter Olympics).

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