American rodeo fans don't cheer when a bull rider gets bucked off. But that's what American riders experienced in the Professional Bull Riders World Cup last year in Brazil before a crowd of about 80,000.
"It wasn't that they hated us or wanted any of our guys to get hurt. They just wanted their team to win," said J.W. Hart, the nonriding captain for Team USA, which opens competition in the three-day international event at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night.
This year marks the first time the Cup event has been in the United States. Five-man teams from Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico will challenge American riders, who have won the last two Cup championships.
Brazil won the first 2007 Cup in Australia, and the Americans won in Mexico the following year, then left Barretos, Brazil -- north of Sao Paulo -- as champions in 2009.
"Every time we bucked off, they cheered. It was the way a World Cup should be. But I know it won't be like that here," Hart said.
Some of the most popular riders in the PBR are from outside the United States. Troy Dunn is captain of the Aussie team that includes brothers Jared and Pete Farley. Three-time PBR world champion Adriano Moraes is captain of the Brazilians, a veteran team led by 2008 PBR series champion Guilherme Marchi.
"Our fans love Adriano, Guilherme, Troy Dunn and the Farley brothers. I don't want them to boo anybody; just get an American flag and wave it," Hart said. "I'd want to win if we were playing checkers. When we put our country's name on the line, I get pretty damn serious about it."
The winning country will split $100,000. But in a sport where traditionally individualism is paramount, nothing tops the nationalism of the Cup, Hart said.
That's how Austin Meier of Kinta, Okla., feels. He was on the U.S. team a year ago and is the PBR Built Ford Tough Series points leader with three titles this year.
"It was a pretty big deal down there," Meier said of the Brazil experience. "It's always exciting to be part of the World Cup team and represent your country. It's not just all about the money."
His teammates are last year's Team USA star Ryan McConnel of Colgate, Okla.; McKennon Wimberly of Cool, Texas; Mike Lee of Decatur, Texas; and Travis Briscoe of Edgewood, N.M.
Reigning world champion Kody Lostroh of Longmont, Colo., will not compete because he underwent shoulder surgery last month and is not expected to ride for another five months.
The 25 riders in the field will compete in six rounds for three days, with each team's top three rider scores in each round counting toward team standings.
"Bull riding is an individual sport, but in the World Cup it really is a team effort," said Hart, 35, who last rode in 2008 before being inducted that year into the PBR Ring of Honor, the sport's hall of fame.
Meier added, "When one guy would stumble, another guy would step up to the plate and get the job done."
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247.