By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Kyler Oliver was standing in the dark alleyway behind the bucking chutes inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center on Friday night when he glanced up at the big screen.
The 21-year-old watched as the pre-event hype video featuring a countdown clock began to play. In 90 seconds, the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals would officially begin, and it would be the last opportunity for 27 riders attempting to qualify for the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas.
Behind each descending number flashed some historical moments at the PBR World Finals. Previous World Champions such as Justin McBride, Cooper Davis and Jess Lockwood quickly appeared and disappeared behind the numbers counting downward.
Oliver’s heart began to race in excitement when the clock hit around 26 seconds, and he then made an internal promise.
“I am going to Arlington,” Oliver told himself. “I only have a few more seconds until it is go time. If you come here to ride, you might as well ride to win.”
A little over 24 hours later, and he made sure to be a man of his word.
Oliver rode GT- 478E for a career-best 90.5 points to win Round 2 of the Velocity Tour Finals on Saturday night to propel himself to a second-place finish overall. Most importantly, the performance clinched Oliver a trip to his first PBR World Finals.
The Roy, Utah, native began the Velocity Tour Finals sitting No. 62 in the world standings, but his 2-for-3 showing in Sioux Falls earned him 57 world points. That was just enough to push Oliver inside the World Finals cutline as the No. 37-ranked bull rider in the world.
Oliver let out a sigh over the phone on Saturday night as he recapped his wild, last-minute journey that he will cap off by riding inside AT&T Stadium this coming Thursday when the PBR World Finals begin.
The cowboy will now look to make his own historic moment at the World Finals like those PBR legends he saw flashing on the screen Friday night.
“I told myself before this event started, when I was in the alleyway before they did the introduction for everybody, that I was going to Arlington,” Oliver said. “So when I got on both my bulls the first two rounds, I had my sights set on that, and I was able to luckily get ‘er done.
“I just had a feeling I was going to Arlington. It just came to me. I knew that I should be there, and this is what I deserve to do. I looked up and I saw they were doing a countdown. At 26 seconds, I knew that was all I had until it was go-time.”
Oliver began the Velocity Tour Finals with 87.5 points on Dirty Sancho. He then rode -478E to put himself into the event lead heading into the championship round.
However, Oliver was unable to conquer Hanna Motors Power Dozer with an opportunity to win the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals, as well as the $35,000 Velocity Tour Championship. Power Dozer bucked Oliver off in 1.67 seconds, which resulted in Mason Taylor winning the Velocity Tour Finals event average by three points.
Meanwhile, Taylor also won the Velocity Tour Championship via tiebreaker after he and Oliver finished atop the standings with 94 points apiece. According to the PBR Velocity Tour Finals official ground rules, the rider with the most amount of money won on the Velocity Tour throughout the 2020 season, including the Finals, is the champion in the case of a tie.
Oliver knew he already had the World Finals clinched when he was taking his wrap inside the bucking chutes with Power Dozer, but the first-time qualifier said that did not play a factor in his buckoff.
“I heard them say, ‘He’s going to the Finals, and he doesn’t have to ride this bull,’” Oliver said. “And I was taking my wrap right then and I was like, ‘I don’t care that I don’t have to ride him. I’m going to try to ride this bull as hard as I can.’
“He really bucked. He just blew my inside foot when he come around there. He hit so hard and turned back so fast that he just blew my foot and got away from me and was just gone. It could’ve went a little bit better for me. I made a mistake, but I’m still extremely blessed for what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
Oliver is a third generation cowboy who is no stranger to the Western way of life, and he has competed as both a bull rider and saddle bronc rider alongside fellow Utah native and 2019 PRCA All-Around World Champion Stetson Wright.
Oliver is the nephew of famed horse and dog trainer Cody Christensen, and Kyler’s grandmother, Sherry Oliver, is a horse trainer and qualified for the Ram Circuit Finals as a barrel racer.
Kyler has bull riding in his blood, too. Another one of his uncles, Shane Oliver, used to ride bulls professionally in the PRCA. Shane has served as a mentor to Oliver since he began getting on sheep at 3 years old.
“That’s who I wanted to be like,” Kyler said. “So that’s kind of where I got my start. I went to bull ridings with him until he had to quit bull riding due to several injuries. But that’s just where I got the bug from, where I got that itch, and just knew that that was going to be my life.”
Through Shane, Kyler also has gotten to know and learn from 2007 PRCA champion bull rider Wesley Silcox and 2012 NFR qualifier Tag Elliott.
“They’re both friends of my uncle’s, same age, that went to high school with him,” Kyler said. “I’ve always had the NFR cowboys in my life.”
Oliver went 0-for-2 at his premier series debut last month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 2020 is his first full-time run in the PBR.
He had previously only competed in two PBR sanctioned events before this year. However, even saying 2020 was a full run for Oliver is somewhat farfetched with the Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division a shell of their normal selves because of the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the schedule significantly.
Oliver went 8-for-22 at 12 regular season events this year at all levels of competition.
“There wasn’t that many points this year, and a lot of them got cancelled, and so originally my plan was to try and make the Velocity Finals, and go and show out there and get a win or second, like I did, and be able to go to the Finals,” Oliver said.
“My original goal for this year was to make the Velocity Finals. I wanted to set that goal, and it was something that I knew I could probably achieve. And to be able to do that and get to go to the World Finals, I’m beyond happy and blessed.”
And how about jumping almost 25 spots in the world standings?
“That’s crazy,” Oliver said. “I didn’t see this year ending like it has. It’s awesome.”
Oliver then let out an exhale.
He was back in his hotel room with his girlfriend, Courtney, processing that he was heading to Arlington on Tuesday to prepare for the PBR World Finals.
Oliver had yet to reach out to his uncle Shane or some of his other friends and family just yet, but he did make sure to phone home to his grandpa, Tim Oliver, to let him know he needed to look into booking a flight to Texas.
What kind of emotions does Oliver expect to feel in the alleyway this time around when he steps foot inside AT&T Stadium and realizes he is competing at the PBR World Finals?
Maybe a little of both?
“I think there’s going to be butterflies Tuesday before I leave,” Oliver concluded. “But usually when I get there they kind of go away. (My nerves are) like a week in advance, or a few days in advance. That is when it kind of hits me, and then I settle in.
“I just want to go ride bulls. That’s all that matters to me.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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