By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – An exasperated Valdiron de Oliveira picked up his cell phone on Tuesday morning and struggled to say “Hello?”
Oliveira was amidst a three-hour workout and physical therapy routine at Fit-N-Wise Rehabilitation and Performance Center in Decatur, Texas, and was running a little behind schedule.
“Can I call you back in like 20 minutes?” Oliveira asked before taking a deep breath.
The 41-year-old has always been a gym rat, but the 11-time PBR World Finals qualifier has upped his training in 2020 as he attempts to become the oldest PBR World Finals qualifier ever in two-and-a-half weeks at the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas, on Nov. 12-15.
Oliveira is down to his final opportunity to pull off the historical feat when he, as well as his 41-year-old pal and fellow history chaser Wallace de Oliveira, will look to punch their tickets to the World Finals via the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals on Nov. 6-7 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“I need to work harder and prepare more than the young guys,” Valdiron said with a laugh once he finished his regimen. “I will work out and train for about three hours a day, but that also includes physical therapy, too. For me, this is alright. For a long time I have not been young. My body is OK right now. It does not hurt. Nothing. My body responds really good to this training. I do everything. I do cardio. I work my core. I work my legs. I do everything.”
Oliveira admitted this week that the fact that he is even in contention for a World Finals qualification spot in 2020 is a stunning turn of events because of how this year has unfolded.
The Goias, Brazil, native had previously retired following the 2018 PBR World Finals, and he later revealed it was a serious gastrointestinal infection that led to him walking away from the sport for the second time in three years. Oliveira also had retired after the 2016 PBR World Finals before returning in 2018.
Oliveira had held out hope privately that he could recover from his infection and make a return to the sport he loved. It took roughly seven months to get back to full health following a series of antibiotics, as well as shots, to remove the infection from his body.
Doctors cleared Oliveira for a return to bull riding in January, and he was set to make his 2020 debut and begin his path back to the Unleash The Beast series at the Dayton, Ohio, Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event on March 14.
However, that was right when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to spread throughout the United States. Days before Oliveira was to make his triumphant return, Dayton was cancelled, and soon enough the entire first half of the Velocity Tour was wiped off the calendar as uncertainty swarmed throughout the United States.
“When I come back, COVID started and everything shut down,” Oliveira said. “They cancelled all the Velocity events, and I said, ‘I don’t have a chance now. There is nothing to go to.’ There was Touring Pros, but not too many. I thought I didn’t have a chance to get up to the Unleash The Beast if we don’t have events.
“How am I going to get there? This is hard.”
Oliveira, whose brother-in-law passed away from COVID-19 in Brazil, understood the severity of the virus and remained patient, knowing that within due time the PBR would get its expansion tour back up and running. He was thankful that he had saved roughly 80% of his career winnings so that he had money set aside for his family during the lull period in competition.
Still, the opportunities to compete and gain points were few and far between. In fact, Oliveira did not make his season debut until Aug. 7 at the Odessa, Texas, Touring Pro Division event, where he placed third overall.
He then did not compete at a PBR-sanctioned event for another two months before he won the Velocity Tour event in Casper, Wyoming, to earn an invitation to compete at the regular-season Unleash The Beast finale in Nampa, Idaho.
The Casper victory wound up being crucial as it placed Oliveira No. 24 in the Velocity Tour standings, which makes him eligible for the Velocity Tour Finals.
“For me, this is all a surprise,” Oliveira said. “I am very excited for the Velocity Finals. I am ready to go ride my bulls. I was telling my wife the other day I didn’t think I was going to make the Velocity Finals. I have only been to three events.”
Oliveira is one of the all-time PBR greats to have never won a PBR world title, but now he may enter the record books in a different fashion if he can qualify for his 12th World Finals.
The fan favorite has reached the 8-second mark 430 times in his premier series career, which ranks fourth all time in PBR history. He has won 12 premier series events and rode for 90 or more points 23 times. He concluded 2018 ranked 20th in the world standings following a blistering 12-for-18-start to the 2018 season.
Oliveira has surpassed 50 qualified rides in his 11-year career five times, and he was a perennial world title contender from 2008-2012.
However, a herniated disc in his lower back forever altered his career.
In 2011, he finished second to World Champion Silvano Alves.
Oliveira was dominating the 2012 season before he injured his back and watched himself trickle down the standings and finish fourth overall.
He underwent career-threatening back surgery in 2012 in Brazil, and returned to competition in 2013 following two months of rigorous rehabilitation with esteemed physical therapist Nivaldo Baldo.
He qualified for the World Finals four straight years, and then one final time in 2018, following the surgery.
Now Oliveira is once again ready to defy the odds.
“For me this is so very special to be the oldest rider to reach the PBR World Finals,” Oliveira, who plans to return for the 2021 season too, said.
So how can Oliveira make it to AT&T Stadium and break Gary Richard’s (40 years old; 2002 World Finals) record?
Oliveira can earn up to 105 world points with a clean sweep at the Velocity Tour Finals, but winning the event average alone could put him in a possible position (Top 40) to snatch one of the last World Finals alternate spots because of injuries in the Top 35.
The other path to Arlington will be if Oliveira can win one of the four wild card berths up for grabs in Sioux Falls if he fails to finish in the Top 35 of the world standings among active riders. The top two riders in the Velocity Tour standings following the Velocity Tour Finals who have not qualified for the PBR World Finals earn automatic bids to the World Finals.
There will also be two more wild card World Finals bids available at the Velocity Tour Finals that will be awarded to the top two riders in the event average standings that have not yet qualified for the World Finals. In the event that all Top-5 finishers in the event average have already qualified for the World Finals, then the final two qualifiers will come from the Velocity Tour standings instead.
In short, there will be four riders outside of Top 35 active qualifiers of the world standings leaving Sioux Falls on Nov. 7 with a guaranteed spot at the 2020 PBR World Finals.
“Oh man, I will try my best in Sioux Falls to make the Finals because I want this,” Oliveira concluded. “I have put it on my mind I wat to be the oldest rider at the World Finals.”
WALLACE OLIVEIRA COULD ALSO MAKE HISTORY
Valdiron and Wallace are not siblings, but the two veterans from Goias, Brazil, began to travel together in 1998 as they were beginning their careers in Brazil. Valdiron would move to the U.S. in 2007, and Wallace would compete sparingly in America for three years until he returned in 2015.
Both riders would love to qualify for the World Finals together this year, but the record would officially go to Valdiron, who is five days older than Wallace.
While Valdiron is the more polished veteran bull rider, Wallace is actually in a great spot to qualify for Arlington.
Wallace is second in the Velocity Tour standings, and he only trails No. 1 Jose Vitor Leme by 7.84 points. Wallace will begin the Velocity Finals holding onto one of the wild card spots.
“He is my friend,” Valdiron said. “We grew up together in Brazil. I hope we both can make the World Finals together.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andre Silva/Bull Stock Media
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