KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Once Chris Nilsen completed the fall, the record appeared to have been set at 18 feet, 4 inches.
The bar had bounced but settled back snugly on the standards at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. Instead of immediate relief, the Park Hill senior endured a lengthy — and somewhat unexpected — verification process for his record-setting pole vault attempt from the head official of the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet.
In the end, the tape showed Nilsen had vaulted 18-4 3/4 — the highest mark ever cleared by a high school athlete in United States history. Family, friends and spectators all hung on the measurement process before celebrating all over again after the official record declaration.
“I had all of the people I really, truly care about here,” Nilsen said. “I had my coaches and friends watching me. It was just really a spectacular moment. I think that’s what motivates everybody. When they have the people they love most around them, that’s when they do the best.”
Nilsen won another title and set another record Saturday, continuing an incredibly rapid rise from sectional qualifier as sophomore to the most prolific vaulter in high school history.
During the past two years, he’s slowly elevated the school record from 15-7 to 18-0 with his vault earlier this month in the Suburban Conference Red Division championships, becoming just the ninth in U.S. history to clear 18 feet or better in high school competition.
After an “off day” last weekend in District 8 competition, winning at 16-9, Nilsen won the Sectional 4 title at 16-6 before going up to 17-0 and 17-6. He then asked for 18-4, taking aim at the national record Shawn Barber of Kingwood, Texas set at 18-3½ in 2012.
Nilsen missed on his first two attempts, and he grazed the bar as he went over on possibly his last try, only to receive a clean bounce. After landing on the mat, Nilsen received a huge hug from jubilant girlfriend Kelly Vogel before starting to celebrate.
Turned out to be a bit premature.
An official came over to verify the process, and thankfully, no one had started to adjust the bar for a higher attempt. Requiring a ladder, large measuring stick and tape measure, the verification process required measurements at three points along the bar.
Nilsen watched the entire scene unfold, clearly nervous about having the record taken away on a technicality.
“I’m about to be super heartbroken if this isn’t good,” Nilsen said of his thoughts. “Everything worked out. I was just praying to God, begging for some mercy. He came through.”
After a media interview and a few selfies with awestruck fellow athletes, Nilsen won his second sectional title, clearing 6-6 in the high jump.
Park Hill ended up with two qualifiers in the event with fellow senior Alijah Gee coming in third after losing the second-place tiebreaker at 6-4 to Raytown’s Dionte Smith. The Trojans continued their dominance of the jumps with junior Papay Glaywulu sweeping the long and triple jumps.
In the morning long jump, Glaywulu went 22-9 ½ to win by an inch in a crowded field, advancing to state for the first time in that event. He nearly broke his own school record, set earlier this year at the Kansas Relays, with his top triple jump. Already a two-time state qualifier in that event, he jumped 48-4 ¾ in the second victory, just a half inch off his school record.
Park Hill goes to state this weekend with hopes of a state trophy for a top-four finish. Hunter Lund (first, 3,200-meters) and Grant Downes (110 hurdles) were the Trojans other two qualifiers.
“We definitely have a chance to make top three. That’s definitely a thing,” Nilsen said.
Park Hill South will have one individual and three relays at state.
Nylo Clarke led the Panthers’ sectional efforts with a win in the 400 at a season-best 48.37 seconds and a third-place showing in a strong 100 field. The speedy junior then led comebacks for the 4x200 (Clarke, Jordan Bell, Tanner Alderson and Ryan Rippy) and 4x400 (Clarke, Rippy, Jared Hernandez and Michael Garrison) teams.
In the 4x200, Clarke took the baton with 15 to 20 meters to make up on Truman’s anchor leg. He closed the gap and edged Nik Tanner at the line to give Park Hill South the final qualifying spot.
“I know. I already know,” said Bell, a senior. “I knew if we were in fifth, we were going to get fourth when we’re giving it to (Clarke). I knew it when he came into high school. I was like, ‘Here comes my replacement.’”
Park Hill South’s 4x400 with Clarke on the anchor leg held off Liberty at the line for the win, posting a 3:23.46. The Panthers’ 4x800 also easily made the state field with a third-place showing. Eli Guzman, Brendan Briody, Alex Lee and Jacob Prososki finished in 8:11.33.
The girls 4x800 team will also compete at state.
Park Hill South’s Jasmine Crawford, Marti Heit, Lexi Maddox and Emma Roth held off Raymore-Peculiar for the fourth and final spot. Park Hill South finished in 9:40.50 to win by a little more than a half second.
Heit also advanced to state with a fourth-place showing in the 3,200 while Park Hill South senior Maryn Burns also snuck in with a fourth in the long jump.
Dymeria Guillory, a sophomore, continued her late-season push with the Panthers’ best individual finish. She posted a career-best 15.95 in the 100 hurdles to come in as runner-up behind Lauren McCann of St. Teresa’s Academy.
“I knew I had a good shot,” said Guillory, who started to celebrate as she crossed the line. “All week, God’s just been with me showing me I was going to do great, and I did.”
Park Hill advanced one individual and two relays.
Taiya Shelby, a sophomore, placed second in the 400 with a season-best 57.05 while following up last week’s unexpected district title in the 200 with a fourth at 25.82. She’s turned in her best two times in the latter event during the past two weeks.
Shelby also ran with Amanda Alexander, Jena Hahlbeck and Sephora Koudou on the third-place 4x200, which set a season-best at 1:44.00. The 4x100 of Shelby, Alexander, Koudou and Gigi Hopkins placed fourth but bettered its school record from last week, improving the 49.79 to 49.45.