By Neal Reid
Phenom Gambino Adds Another World Title to Growing Resume
The words teenager and legacy rarely appear in the same sentence, but in the case of Montanna-Gracie Gambino, the pairing is appropriate.
The Lindale, Texas, cowgirl took the rodeo world by storm last year after earning a tie-down roping world championship, and the terrific teen added title No. 2 at this year’s WPRA World Finals Rodeo, Nov. 14-15, in Waco, Texas. Aboard her trusty horse Grayman, Gambino finished third in the final round to secure fourth place in the average and win the tie-down roping title by the slimmest of margins—a lunch special $9.76 over average champion Tanegai Zilverberg of Holabird, South Dakota.
It was a stressful and nail-biting affair from start to finish, and Gambino was both relieved and shocked to win another championship before her 19th birthday on Dec. 12.
“It’s surreal. I was really trying to focus on competing and not worry about the numbers too much, but the numbers did matter to me,” said Gambino, who added $1,298 to her 2020 earnings in tie-down roping at the Finals. “When everything was over, we added it up in our heads. I honestly did not think I’d won it. Then, when they posted it, it was unreal.
“I couldn’t explain the feeling that was coming over all of us when my name was there on top.”
Gambino won the second round in 15.1 seconds and cashed in the final round on her way to the crown, with Zilverberg easily taking the average in 55.3 seconds. It turns out Gambino’s 26.7-second run in the final round was just enough to leave her ahead of Zilverberg, $7,402.62 to $7,392.86.
“In the third round, my thought at that point was, ‘Just go get it roped and go get a time. Don’t worry about everything else, just make sure you get it tied down,’” said Gambino, who also competed in the breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing. “I did that and stayed in the average, and the average is really what helped me out. It wasn’t the prettiest run, for sure, but it was a run.”
For the second consecutive year, Gambino entered the Finals atop the all-around standings, but she had to settle for a runner-up finish yet again. Kelsie Chace from Cherokee, Oklahoma, finished second in the tie-down roping average and teamed with Finals all-around winner Jackie Crawford to win the team roping average in Waco to vault past Gambino and win the WPRA all-around title.
Despite a runner-up finish in the barrel racing, Gambino found herself $171 behind Chace, a near-miss she admits left a bad taste in her mouth.
“This year, not winning the all-around was more of a ‘Debbie Downer’ than winning the tie-down, and I hate saying that because I am ecstatic I did win that world title,” said Gambino, who used three different horses in various events in Waco. “Last year, I went in first in the all-around and didn’t get that done, so it was one of my big goals to go in there and win it this year. To realize I only lost it by $100 is pretty upsetting, but I’m really good friends with Kelsie and Kelsie just worked so hard doing what she loves to do and what she does for work, so I am proud that she won it.”
Gambino, who attends Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, also had a college rodeo to juggle during Finals weekend, so her attention and efforts were split. Coming up short again in the all-around will fuel her competitive fire, and Gambino heads toward her bright future balancing the emotions of enjoying her achievements while also hungering for more.
“I really feel like it’s a dream sometimes, and I have to tell myself to pinch myself and wake up,” Gambino said of her success. “I can’t thank everybody enough who’s helped me get there. I guess my mindset from here forward is, ‘Two [championships] is not enough. We’ve got to get another one and another one.’
“I plan to keep working hard and doing the same things. I’m just going to keep chasing it and chasing it, and I think that’s really the only way you can accomplish your goals and your dreams. It’s all just amazing.”