USD’s Chris Nilsen sets his sights on Tokyo after 2020 NCAA season canceled


For South Dakota pole-vaulter Chris Nilsen, the end of his career in Vermillion was full of joy and heartbreak: He was named the indoor field athlete of the year, and the NCAA cancelled the outdoor season for 2020. Not only that, but Chris’s chance to compete in the Olympics was also pushed back.

“I was saddened like everybody else is mainly about the rest of my NCAA season and the Olympics,” he said. “But I think there was some clarity in it once everybody started talking about the dangers of not social distancing.”

On Monday the NCAA announced that spring sport athletes would be eligible to return for an extra year after their seasons were canceled. While many are excited for another chance at their senior year, Chris is ready to move on to the next stage of his life.

“I don’t think I will be taking [the extra year] because I’ll be graduating here soon. And probably moving on to getting a real job and trying out the professional pole vault circuit,” Chris said.

And although his career with the Coyotes has come to an end, Chris knows that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the university.

“I don’t think I regret any single bit of the last four years I’ve been here. And I think I’m a completely different person now, probably did a full 180 from high school to now,” he said. “Because of the mentors that I had, the friends that I made, and the experiences I had to go through.”

The next 16 months of Chris’ life will be centralized around preparing for the 2021 Olympics. And as far as his mindset goes, he’s just taking all of the recent decisions in stride.

“I think the only change is that we have to be more patient,” said Chris. “Because we’re in a stalemate so we can’t really do anything. “

Chris’ next stop is Tokyo, where he’ll look to capture another championship, this time on the world’s greatest stage.

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