USD’s Chris Nilsen wins gold at Olympic Trials, punches ticket to Tokyo


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. (KCAU) — Former USD pole vaulter Chris Nilsen took a giant leap Monday, punching his ticket to the 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.

Nilsen ranks fifth in the world in the men’s pole vault by World’s Athletics. Nilsen, along with Sam Kendricks and KC Lightfoot will represent the pole vault squad in Tokyo.

This is Nilsen’s second time competing in the Olympic Trials, first attempting when he came out of high school in 2016. However, Nilsen did not place.

For USD, Nilsen was a three-time NCAA champion and a seven-time All-American. Earlier in 2021, he held the world’s top outdoor mark at 19 feet, 4.75 inches.

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).

The Opening Ceremony for the Olympics is set for July 23, with track and field events beginning July 30.

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