The National Western has been a Denver fixture since 1906. The tradition of bringing cattle to The Brown Palace is 75 years old.
UPDATE: Olaf sold at auction for a record $155,000 and Zion sold for $105,000.
I didn’t see whether it was Olaf or Zion that bellowed when the pianist under the crystal chandelier in the The Brown Palace tea room launched into “Take Five.”
But I believe it was an approving bellow and that either Olaf or Zion likes jazz.
These things are certain: Olaf is the National Western Stock Show’s 2020 grand champion steer; Zion is the reserve grand champion; and the tradition that brings prize steers to spend a few hours at a fancy Denver hotel before they are auctioned off is delightful.
“It’s crazy. It’s awesome. It’s so surreal,” added 18-year-old Ashtin Guyer, who raised Olaf at her family’s Robinson, Illinois show cattle operation.
Yes, the reference is to the Olaf you’re probably thinking of. Guyer said her six-year-old neighbor Piper Unger, a “Frozen” fan, chose the name “before she even met him” and has shown Olaf a few times in local competitions.
Piper and her family “called and texted all day yesterday,” Guyer said.
Jagger Horn of Austin, Texas named his steer after Duke University and recently-debuted New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson.
“They’re both as good as they get,” Horn, 18, said of the star basketball player and his bovine namesake.
Bruce Wagner, the chair of the stock show’s Junior Auction Committee, said judges look for animals with the right balance of weight and height — not necessarily the biggest steers. Olaf weighs a mere 1,330 pounds and Zion 1,344 pounds.
“These are the bodybuilders of the cattle industry,” Wagner said of show steers.
Show cattle are used to being handled. Olaf and Zion, their coats groomed to fluffy perfection, were calm late Friday morning in their temporary pen at the hotel. They were surrounded by a crowd that included stock show officials and rodeo queens. Some onlookers sipped tea, others champagne. In a line that stretched across the lobby and out the door, people waited to take a selfie with or pet the pair, or just catch a glimpse of them.
Back at the stock show grounds Friday evening, Olaf and Zion were the stars at the Auction of Junior Livestock Champions. Olaf sold for a record $155,000 to Ames Construction Company. Zion was bought by Kent Stevinson of Stevinson Automotive for $105,000.
Guyer, an agribusiness student at Lakeland College in Illinois, and Horn, who plans to attend Texas Tech University, will be able to put part of the auction proceeds to their college educations. Other auction proceeds go to the National Western Scholarship Trust, which supports students who pursue agriculture and medical degrees at colleges throughout Colorado and Wyoming.