FORT WORTH, Texas ― Austin Meier never expected to be in this predicament.
On the heels of four consecutive seasons of finishing in the Top 10 of the world standings, including a 2010 season when he finished second behind World Champion Renato Nunes, Meier expected to contend for an elusive world title this year.
Instead, it's been a yearlong rollercoaster ride in which he's finally in a position where ― with one Built Ford Tough Series event remaining this weekend in Hollywood, Fla. ― he's looking to hold onto one of the last spots in the draw for the World Finals.
Right now, it's all about points and securing a trip to Las Vegas.
But when asked why his 2013 season went so terribly wrong, he replied, "I don't know all the reasons for it."
With one three-day event remaining, Meier is currently ranked 33rd in the world standings after a seventh-place finish in Fayetteville, N.C., last weekend despite competing with torn cartilage (medial meniscus) in his right knee that will require surgery after the Finals.
Meier had been outside the Top 35.
Austin Meier talks about what it was like when he was outside of the Top 35.
With a season-ending injury to Aaron Roy that is threatening to end his career, the Top 36 riders will actually qualify for the Finals. Roy is still ranked 20th in spite of not having ridden in the past eight events following a severe back injury sustained at the Calgary Stampede.
Rounding out the Top 36 following Meier are Lachlan Richardson, 34, Markus Mariluch, 35, and Matt Triplett, 36.
"I'm trying to stay on every bull that I get on," said Mariluch, who, like Meier, had a Top-10 finish in North Carolina in an effort to secure his first Finals qualification. "That's what I'm focused on right now, just riding my bulls. I'm just going to let it all hang out."
Meier and Triplett are separated by only 153 points.
Jared Farley, who is moving home following the season, is only 47.5 points behind Triplett, and another 57 behind Mariluch. However, the Aussie is among the five alternates.
The alternate list also currently includes Agnaldo Cardozo, along with up-and-comers Zane Lambert, Zac Peterson and Stetson Lawrence.
"I know I'm close now because if they're letting you into these as an alternate you're close, and I'm just trying to ride every bull and secure my spot," said Mariluch. "I was really actually amazed when they called me last weekend. I kind of thought I had faded out.
"I knew that was my last chance of the year, and I did really good at that event."
Markus Mariluch rides Stanley Stud Finder for 85.75 during the first round of the Fayetteville Built Ford Tough Series event. Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
In addition to finishing fifth in Fayetteville, he was eighth a week earlier, in Grand Rapids, Mich., in order for the Elko, Nev., native to make a late-season surge.
Qualifying for the Finals also sets up the draw for the opening BFTS event of the following season.
This year is a bit different.
In addition to Roy's uncertainty ― he's not expected to return in 2014 ― Luke Snyder, 18th, and Brendon Clark, 24th, both announced their pending retirements.
Shane Proctor, who is ranked ninth in the PBR and also competes in the PRCA, is also contemplating shoulder surgery after the National Finals Rodeo in December, which would sideline him for much of or all of the first part of the 2014 schedule.
That will open up four spots for the New York event the first weekend in January.
However, Robson Palermo, Harve Stewart and Pistol Robinson are all expected to return to the BFTS with injury exemptions making Triplett's 36th spot in the world standings a prime piece of real estate.
"It's a battle," said Meier, who insists his confidence and desire to win remain high.
"One thing I've done this year and I'll continue to do it, is you learn from it and a lot of that learning (isn't) the physical side of it because, by now, we all ought to know how to ride rank bulls at this level. But you learn so much mentally and if you use it right, it can further your career down the road ― next year.
"I think what I've learned the most is controlling my emotions," he continued. "I'm still at the top mentally."
According to Dr. Tandy Freeman, Meier's right knee will require surgery at the conclusion of the Finals. Meier said it's "not a major surgery" and mitigated the news furthermore by adding, "the typical recovery is two weeks." But he did admit, "It hurts just as bad as anything else you'd have surgery on, but the recovery time is super quick."
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