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Graves steers to Calgary Stampede victory

Lee Graves, from Calgary, Alta., wins the steer wrestling rodeo event on the final day of the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Sunday, July 18, 2010. The final day of Stampede rodeo is the richest single day in rodeo competition, giving out $1-million in prize money.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh


Lee Graves finally captured the rodeo title that had long eluded him Sunday when the Calgarian won the steer wrestling championship and the $100,000 prize money that goes with it.

The two-time world champion was the only Canadian winner Sunday at the $2-million Calgary Stampede. The other five champions were from the United States.

"Being a hometown cowboy here to win the Stampede finally, I didn't really believe it until I got this cheque in my hand," Graves said.

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The burly Graves brought his steer down in a time of 3.8 seconds, which was 0.2 seconds faster than runner-up Wade Sumpter of Fowler, Colo.

Graves, 39, almost didn't compete because of a painful rib injury he suffered while practising on July 9 - the day the Stampede began.

"If you call close sitting in the hospital getting an X-ray going 'I don't think I can run a steer today,' that's pretty close," Graves said.

The six-foot-two, 230-pound cowboy was practising that day because he hadn't competed in a rodeo since March. He'd torn a bicep tendon at a rodeo in Houston and was testing his fitness to compete in the Stampede.

When Graves found out his ribs weren't broken just two hours before the first rodeo performance, he made the decision to continue.

"I'm pretty bullheaded," he said.

Graves looked to be in pain after his qualifying run Sunday of 3.7 seconds that sent him into the final four as the top seed.

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"Anyone who knows about a torn cartilage or broken rib, it doesn't feel good. You can't breathe," he explained. "With the impact (of landing on a steer) and stuff you're going 40 miles an hour. I got my breath pretty good when I got this cheque."

He felt considerable pressure to perform well as the Stampede is an invitation-only, big-money event.

"It was just a bunch of hurdles I had to step over," he said. "It's awesome to $100,000, but for me it's extra special.

"I've been here a lot of times and coming here injured and everything against me, it's been a head wave all the way in here, but I done it."

Matt Shiozawa of Chubbock, Idaho, won the tie-down roping in 6.5 seconds in a tiebreaker round with three-time champion Fred Whitfield of Hockley, Texas.

William Lowe of Canyon, Texas, won his third straight bareback title in Calgary with an 87.5 on Mad Money. Lowe had scored 89 on the same horse in Monday's run and knew he was capable of another high score.

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"I knew he was going to do something so I'd better have my hammer cocked," Lowe said. "Calgary has been very good to me."

Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa, scored 88.5 on Mata Fact to take the saddle bronc championship. He went into the final four riding a wave of confidence a 90.5 score in the qualifying round aboard Lynx Mountain.

"I had so much adrenaline," Sundell said. "I couldn't have asked to draw any two better horses than that. The first horse, I've been waiting to get on him for a long time and I'm glad I came here to get on him."

Savannah Reeves of Dublin, Texas, laid down a 17.25-second ride on Thunder to win ladies barrel racing.

Douglas Duncan of Alvin, Texas, won the bull riding event with an 88 on Wranglers Deja Vue. The bull spun about 10 times during the required eight seconds and Duncan managed to spin with him.

"Once you start spinning, it was like sitting my self in a chair and spinning real fast," Duncan said.

The Stampede invited 120 competitors, including 44 reigning or former world champions to the 10-day event. The top 10 qualifiers after nine days of competition advanced to Sunday. The top four out of the qualifying round head reached the final and the chance to claim the $100,000 winner's cheque.

In the rough stock events, each ride is scored out of a possible 100 points. Steer wrestling, tie-down roping and barrel racing are timed events.

Graves rides a horse named Jessie, which has twice been named the world champion steer riding horse of the year.

"He's the quarterback of the whole situation," Graves said. "He makes it happen."

Graves won world titles at the National Finals Rodeo both last year and in 2005.

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