Nilsen wins gold at U.S. Olympic Trials Original

Chris Nilsen clears the bar during the finals of the men’s pole vault at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Monday, June 21, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

EUGENE, Ore.—South Dakota track and field alum Chris Nilsen captured his first U.S. Championships gold medal and punched his ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Nilsen, a product of Kansas City, Missouri, cleared the winning height of 19-4 ¼ (5.90m) following a perfect competition. He was the only athlete with a clean sheet in the competition, clearing six bars on first-attempt makes en route to the gold medal. After securing the win, Nilsen took three shots at the elusive six-meter bar (19-8 ¼), but was ultimately unable to clear it.

A 2020 graduate of the University of South Dakota, Nilsen was a three-time NCAA Champion for the Coyotes. He was a seven-time All-American and never finished lower than third at the NCAA Championships in his collegiate career. His senior championship meets were wiped out to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nilsen continues to work with USD coach Derek Miles, a three-time Olympian and Olympic bronze medalist (2008) in the pole vault, while training in Vermillion.

Nilsen heads to Tokyo ranked fifth in the world this season with a best of 19-4 ¾ (5.91m) that he vaulted at the USATF Golden Games in early May. His personal best of 19-6 ¼ (5.95m) was set at the 2019 NCAA Championships, also breaking the NCAA meet record.

Joining Nilsen on Team USA in the pole vault will be Sam Kendricks and KC Lightfoot. Both Nilsen and Lightfoot are from the Kansas City metro area.

This marks Nilsen’s first Olympic games, but it will not be his first time sporting a Team USA singlet. He made the 2017 IAAF World Championships team and also took gold for the United States at the 2019 Pan American Games.

South Dakota has six athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials this week. Next up to compete are a trio of Coyotes who take the stage on Thursday – Lara Boman (hammer throw), Emily Grove (pole vault) and Ben Hammer (discus).

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