VERMILLION, S.D. (KCAU) – After jumping a personal best and claiming the silver medal in the pole vault final, Chris Nilsen certainly left his mark in Tokyo. The University of South Dakota made sure to give the 3-time NCAA indoor champion a proper homecoming to celebrate his return to the United States.
“I feel very loved, and very grateful, and humbled by this whole experience,” USD 2020 graduate Chris Nilsen said.
It was a valiant trip back to Vermillion as the crowd flew both American and Coyote flags to greet the silver medalist from his Olympic debut in Japan.
“You never really realize how many people are supporting you from other places that you just don’t know until you like see them all in one room and you’re talking in front of them so… I don’t know, it’s like another family,” Nilsen said.
After competing just three days ago, the Coyote community saw its star athlete ride down Cherry Street with a police escort, and his new hardware.
“You feel like a proud parent and I know our athletes feel like proud brothers and sisters,” USD athletic director David Herbster said. “You know it’s that family atmosphere not only in the athletic department but on campus and this community I think really sees the pride really kind of comes out for Chris.”
Nilsen is the first in Coyote history to secure a silver medal, and from one Olympian to another, coach Derek Miles says Chris is one-of-a kind.
“I think the thing that’s been most impressive is his intensity when it matters,” USD associate director of track and field Derek Miles said. “When it’s game time, you can guarantee he always shows up.”
Chris’ impact on the USD campus will be felt for a long time, and he has done his part to grow the sport of pole vaulting as well as the Nilsen name.
“It’s like the culmination of every five-year-old’s dream when they say they want to grow up to be an Olympic athlete, I got to actually live it out,” Nilsen said. “It’s just a weird euphoric experience that I’m never ever going to forget.”