Lewis Oliva, the flying doctor
He may have left the BC Academy to become a doctor, but that didn’t stop Lewis Oliva being picked for the World Track squad, and there’s plenty more to come, he tells Guy Swarbrick
ecently crowned British keirin champion Lewis Oliva is a committed man. He did, after all, spend six years working on an Open University degree in philosophy before beginning his current project — studying to be a doctor at Cardiff Medical School.
But as his palmarès shows, Oliva’s committed to more than just his studies.
The 24-year-old Welshman joined the British Cycling Academy programme straight from school, but as a gifted academic he became the latest of a series of riders who have been forced to make a decision between sport and higher education.
Some have tried to make a case for studying at a Manchester University alongside their training, but British Cycling has been adamant that the programme is full-time or nothing.
Oliva, though, found his own way. “It was something that has secretly been in the pipeline for a number of years. I applied for Cardiff Medical School in 2014 — for a deferred entry — and they accepted me. It’s been a childhood dream of mine and I knew that regardless of how Rio went — whether it be a selection or non-selection — I was ready to move on and dedicate my life to it.”
And so, last year Oliva revealed to his coaches that he had a place in Cardiff waiting for him, and that he would be leaving the Academy to take it up.
GB sprint coach Justin Grace recalls discussions with Oliva before Rio, but it was only when the team came back that the full picture emerged. “I knew that he was studying — he’d be doing papers when we were away on camps, tucked away in his room — so I was well aware of that. And I knew that he was a very good student, incredibly smart guy. As soon as he said to me that he’d already been accepted to med school and put it on hold and they were prepared to do that then, of course… what could I say?”
Oliva now rides for Welsh Cycling under the Team USN banner, and while he has conceded his Olympic Academy place, British Cycling has been sufficiently impressed to offer him a ride on Team GB for selected events, should he maintain form.
When we spoke to him, Oliva was looking for a strong performance at last month’s Los Angeles World Cup to go with his National title: “I think those two will provide a big platform for the Worlds selections and who knows? That’s what’s driving me at the minute. Worlds selections and to ride with the GB skinsuit once again,” he said.
He duly impressed with fourth in the keirin, and earlier this month was picked for the Worlds team that will travel to Hong Kong in a few weeks’ time.
“GB have been really good about keeping the door open. It’s good that the programme can show that open-door policy and if you log on to the World Cup rankings, the highest-ranked GB keirin rider is me, so…
“You see a lot of athletes based down in Cardiff, guys like Jamie Roberts and Hallam Amos who both play [rugby] internationally for Wales,” he says. “Other sports seem to successfully manage education and sporting endeavours alongside — maybe I’m able to pave the way now for other guys to do the same,” he says.
“At the minute, the big goal is the Commonwealth Games. Tokyo [Olympic Games 2020] is something which is definitely on the horizon, but it’s too far distant at the moment to be focusing energy and resources into that.”
So far, it looks good for Oliva. As well as his keirin title — and a bronze in the sprint — the first two World Cups of the season yielded a top 10 in the sprint in Glasgow and a bronze in the keirin. That was followed by fifth in the sprint at Apeldoorn and a relegation from silver in the keirin final which many felt was harsh.
But with a successful Los Angeles behind him now as well, and with the biggest stage in the annual track calendar beckoning, Oliva now has the perfect opportunity to show British Cycling that despite his dedication to his studies, his cycling is as important to him as it has ever been.
Spin doctor: Oliva’s focus for both practices is unerring
Oliva at the 2015 London Revolution
Talking shop with BC soigneur Luc de Wilde