Classics teacher Jack Oliver hopes to wind the clock back this summer

·3-min read
Oliver, 31, will be competing in his fourth Commonwealth Games later this month. (REUTERS)

By Tom Harle, Sportsbeat

Somewhere in a school in West Yorkshire, there is an Olympic weightlifter teaching Ancient Greek.

That someone is Jack Oliver, who by day brings Latin to the students of Bradford Grammar School and by night lifts 175kg weights in the school gym underneath his classroom.

His kids would never admit it, but that is one cool Classics teacher.

The 31-year-old from Bexleyheath can tell tales of gory injuries that would make Hercules wince and London 2012, where he broke British records in front of baying Games crowds.

For Oliver, amo, amas, amat is as thrilling as golden, silver and bronze.

“Classics is just as exciting as weightlifting,” he said. “I like working with kids - they are funny, they are interesting and there’s always someone saying something brilliant.

“All of the sportspeople I’ve met over the years, they’re all pretty mad. They’re a real bunch of characters and I think you have to be.

“We devote our life to something that involves a lot of hardship and pain. It has that parallel to the stories of ancient heroes we read all the time in the class.

“It’s a pretty clear link to me between sports and the classics.”

More than half of the words in this article have Latin and Greek roots and Oliver has seen his class numbers swell in recent years.

Inspired by Percy Jackson-style books and films, he believes the Classical languages are booming.

“When kids are taught Latin at school, they have preconceived notions from their parents that it’s hard and it’s all noun tables and verb tables,” said Oliver, who hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

“There is that, but it’s not taught in the same way as it used to be, sitting in silence and just learning tables, there are a lot more stories to it these days.

“We’re getting a lot of kids wanting to learn it. It’s growing, which every Classicist is happy to see.”

This summer, Team England, supported by National Lottery funding, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured his place on the squad, Oliver is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home country.

Oliver has suffered a litany of injuries in his weightlifting career. He battled through pain at his first Commonwealth Games representing Team England, Delhi 2010.

He will always rue fourth place in Glasgow four years later when in great shape but against the odds, he finally reached the rostrum in 2018.

Oliver needed a complete reconstruction of his elbow, a career-ending injury for most, and simultaneous knee surgery just months before the Games, where he took silver.

“No-one expected me to even be able to lift again,” said Oliver.

“I would have been happy with any kind of result on the Gold Coast, but to get a medal was amazing. It’s time to have one last crack at it and see what I can do.”

Oliver tore a cartilage in his knee for the fourth time at the 2019 European Championships, then his adductor in his right leg that August.

He went 18 months without lifting a single weight before a friend convinced him to pick it up again in a virtual competition. Oliver enjoyed it, and the bug was back.

“I thought if I’m actually enjoying it now, I might as well go for Birmingham,” he said. “It’s been a little bit like when I was younger.

“I’ve gotten some of the excitement back. My body isn’t so happy but I am enjoying it in the way I used to.”

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