Keith Oliver, BEM – aiming for gold

A top British Olympic athlete and trainer in the 1970‘s and 80’s, Keith was hoping for a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. After competing in three consecutive games, the gold medal may have eluded him but he emerged with Britain’s highest ever biathlon scores in the 10 and 20 km races, and came away with something far better than a gold medal. Keith says,

The 1970’s were a time when the government told the nation, ‘You’ve never had it so good!’ For me, this became a reality.”

He competed in thee Winter Olympic Games in 1972,1976 and 1980 in Biathlon and cross-country skiing. Biathlon demands the endurance of a marathon runner with the shooting accuracy of an expert marksman. He says,

“The cross-country races are fast. I’m amazed that after all these years I still hold the record of the best position of a British athlete in the ten kilometre Biathlon!

Keith also went to the 1988 games as a coach and was honoured to carry the British flag in the closing ceremony. He had also held the record for the best position of a British athlete in the Biathlon 20km event since the 70’s, but he did a great job coaching the team that year, so good in fact that Michael Dixon was able to beat his 20km British record at the 1988 games.

Keith now lives in Wiltshire, but was born in Liverpool. Due to family problems he was placed in an orphanage as a small child. Life improved when he was fostered at the age of ten, but by then Keith had become an introvert with poor education. As a teenager he joined the Royal Marine Cadet Band in Portsmouth with his foster brother Alan and played football for them as well. Keith showed signs of being an Olympic athlete at an early age when he used to run to school racing the bus. A cyclist gave a very accurate prediction when he said, “If you keep this up you will be in the Olympics!

Keith joined the Army when he was 16. He loved running and became the Army Junior Cross Country Champion. Still an introvert, one of his team mates commented, “He can’t talk, but he can’t half run!”

He was then posted to Germany, and it was while in Germany that skiing became his main sport. Keith was very successful winning 18 National events and 3 International events. He eventually moved from competing to coaching and as well as being the couch for the 1988 Games in Canada, he coached the National Junior Biathlon team for three years. Keith was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to sport.

Biathlon was the main thing in Keith’s life and there was nothing more important to him until 1979. Something changed that year, something that would change his focus on life forever.

“I was back in the UK on a training camp and went to a local church where I was particularly impressed by the sincere way the message was given ‘in love’. I don’t remember what was said back in 1979, but I do remember the way in which it was said. After the service, Stephanie, the lay preacher, could see that I was inspired and she came to talk to me. She explained how to get ‘saved’ and become a true Christian believer. She arranged a meeting so she could explain more about the Christian faith to me.

Stephanie began to explain the Bible to me. She again shared that God’s Son Jesus came into our world to deal with the sin problem of mankind. Jesus lived a sinless life to become our ‘sin offering’ – paying the price for our sins by going to the cross… then rising from the dead to be with God the Father in heaven. She then asked me a very important question which is often left out. Many people agree with the historical truth of what the bible says, but they don’t appropriate that truth personally. This is what had happened to me when I was ‘confirmed’ as a teenager. Stephanie made it very personal and challenged me to apply the good news to my life. She said, ‘would you like to make a commitment now to become a Christian?’ I said, ‘Yes’, so She led me though a prayer where I asked Jesus to take away my sin and I invited him into my life by his Holy Spirit to help me live a Christian life.”

Keith wrote to his wife Margaret (she was still in Germany) explaining how he became a Christian. Margaret had a friend who was a Christian and she explained everything to Margaret. Not long after that Margaret also committed her life to Christ. Keith says,

“Our daughter Gillian also became a Christian at an Easter convention, and our son David too when he was just 8 years old. Margaret and I both got baptised in water – the way the Baptists do it.” 

But there was even more to come. There was another transformation in Keith’s life in the form of ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’.

“The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is when the Spirit is given to receive power and gifts of service from Jesus Christ. We see this explained in Acts chapter 1:8. I found that the ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’ gave me a boldness and courage I had never experienced before. Then, from being a good introvert, I had become an extrovert in sharing my faith with anyone and everyone. I’ve never looked back.” 

Nowadays Keith is the President of the Chippenham and Corsham district of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. The FGBMFI is a world-wide organisation which encourages business men to share their faith after an evening meal. The functions are often in hotels and restaurants. He is also a member of Christians in Sport. Keith’s son David works at a church in Somerset.

Keith has come a very long way. From being virtually unable to speak as a teenager, he has spoken at many churches, after dinner events and outreach events talking about the sport of biathlon and sharing his testimony. He was surprised to be the VIP guest speaker at a sportsmen’s yearly prize giving event. Keith has also shared his testimony in schools, churches, prisons and at many FGBMFI events in hotels and other public places. He says,

That’s not bad going for an introvert, who at one time was too nervous even speak to people one to one.

Story by Ralph Burden

Photo attribution: Photos by kind permission of Keith Oliver.


Feature photo:  Keith taking a precise rifle shot, (ii) Keith speaking to BBC TV, (ii) Keith at the Winter Olympics, Sapporo.


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