Park Hill grad Nilsen grabs D-I pole vault title in freshman season

Chris Nilsen continues to make history, even as a freshman in college.

The 2016 Park Hill graduate finished off an unbeaten season at South Dakota with a Division I national championship in the pole vault on Friday, March 10 in College Station, Texas. The indoor title was the first men’s Division I national title in track and field for the Coyotes.

Chris Nilsen

Chris Nilsen

Previously, six men won Division II national titles for South Dakota before the school moved up.
Nilsen captured the title when he cleared 18 feet, 4½ inches on his second attempt. He then went on to tie his personal best height of 18-8¼, which he had previously made at the Tyson Invitational in February to set a new American under-20 indoor record.

After clearing 18-8¼, Nilsen took three attempts at 19-0¾, which would have broken the world under-20 record. 

“The plan was to get my feet wet, to come in here and do my best and see what happens,” Nilsen said. “I’m happy with the results. I was gassed at the end. I put all my mental and physical energy into those last jumps.”

The national title continued Nilsen’s meteoric rise in the sport.

As a sophomore at Park Hill, Nilsen didn’t qualify for state and held a personal best under 13 feet. He came back as a junior and won the Class 5 Missouri State Track and Field Championships pole vault competition, breaking the all-class record set more than two decades earlier.

Nilsen repeated as state champion last year after breaking the national high school record with a vault of 18-4¾ during Class 5 Sectional 4 competition. He came up just short of meeting an Olympic qualifying standard but has now established himself as one of the best collegiate pole vaulters in his first season at South Dakota — a season that continues in the spring with outdoor competitions.