The Best Calf Roper

A world-champion calf roper picks the event's top competitors of all time.

I returned home after attending last year's Wrangler® National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and I couldn't quit thinking about the calf-roping contest that turned into a two-man match between Cody Ohl and Fred Whitfield for the world championship. It was some of the best roping I've ever seen, and the two men jockeyed back and forth for 10 performances. Ultimately, their entire year's effort, traveling and hard work came down to the last performance and the last calf of the year.

Whitfield held the lead going into the 10th round, but either man could've won. Ohl roped before Whitfield, and all eyes in the jam-packed stands gazed upon Ohl. After only one swing, Ohl threw his loop and dismounted. Holding nothing back, he tied the calf with only one wrap and a hooey.

The crowd went crazy. I think it was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen at a national finals. Everyone immediately looked up to see the arena clock, which showed 6.5 seconds. Then they looked back to the barrier judge to see if he was waving his hat. Everything was clean, and the calf stayed tied.

The run not only set a new WNFR record, but also a world record, the fastest calf-roping run ever in professional competition. (Clint Robinson would tie this record at the 2004 Tri-State Fair in Amarillo, Texas.)

Whitfield roped next, but his outstanding time of 7.5 seconds was only good enough for third place in the round. Ohl cemented his fourth calf-roping world championship.

This got me to thinking about all of the good ropers I've watched for more than a half-century.

Comparing Then and Now

People look at the fast times today and compare them to past times, and they tend to think these young guys are a lot better than the early ropers. That's not necessarily so. The conditions are so different today that it's like comparing apples to oranges.

New innovations in roping and smaller calves have shaved seconds off what would've been considered a good run when I started roping calves. Today's ropers save seconds by flanking instead of legging-down a calf, getting off on the right side and not having to go under the rope, holding their slack and switching the calf around (so its head faces the horse) and keeping it on its feet, and by roping smaller calves that have been tied down prior to being roped.

With all that said, I still find myself picking the top ropers of all time from those who've competed in the last 25 years.