Park Hill's Nilsen wins national title

South Dakota sophomore Chris Nilsen broke the NCAA Championships pole vault meet record after clearing 19 feet, 1 ½ inches, for the second NCAA title of his career on Wednesday, June 6.

“There been a bit more interviews than normal,” Nilsen said Monday when asked about how things have changed since winning the national title. “I’ve have gotten a lot of congratulations. It’s fun to get in touch with old friends.

“My phone was blowing up when I got back to it. I had about 40 texts, five calls and hundreds of Twitter and Instagram interactions. I had a couple of high school coaches and a couple Facebook messages, a lot of people from home. My wife’s parents and grandparents told me congratulations.”

 NATE BARRETT/Special to the Citizen South Dakota’s Chris Nilsen won the NCAA Division I pole vault championship on Wednesday, June 5. The Park Hill graduate set a new NCAA record in his win.

NATE BARRETT/Special to the Citizen
South Dakota’s Chris Nilsen won the NCAA Division I pole vault championship on Wednesday, June 5. The Park Hill graduate set a new NCAA record in his win.

A Park Hill graduate, Nilsen vaulted a centimeter past a 22-year-old NCAA Championships meet record. Lawrence Johnson of Tennessee held the previous NCAA meet record from 1996.

The former Missouri state high school record holder in the pole vault knows records are meant to be broken.

Lee’s Summit’s KC Lightfoot broke his mark this year and Nilsen knows his newest record might not stay long.

“It’ll get broken next year probably,” he said. “Next year it is at the University of Texas. That is where the Texas Relays are and they have a real nice place to jump and it has a really nice tailwind so it will be easy to jump 19-2.”

The sophomore had one miss early in the competition, but a series of four first-attempt makes vaulted him to the top. Nilsen was the only athlete to clear 18-4 ½. Akron’s Matthew Ludwig strategically passed a pair of heights to remain in the competition with him until 18-8 ¼. Nilsen made both 18-8 ¼ and his final height of 19-1 ½ on first attempts.

“I think when I cleared 18-4 on the first attempt, I thought that would’ve won it,” Nilsen said. “When Matthew Ludwig missed, I said ‘Ok, maybe this is going somewhere. Then when it went to 18-6 and he missed again, I thought I won it.”

Nilsen also took three close attempts at a lifetime best of 19-4 ¼ on Wednesday, but was not able to clear the height.

This was the sixth time this year that he cleared 19 feet in the outdoor season.

In his young career, Nilsen boasts a pair of NCAA titles along with a silver and a bronze from the NCAA Championships. He previously won the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships.

“It is satisfying,” he said of having both an indoor and outdoor title. “It means I kind of came full circle. It is motivating to get a few more (titles) before I’m out of college. But it will be hard with three studs coming into the NCAA and they have all jumped high.”

Nilsen ranks first in the United States and fourth in the world this season with his personal best of 19-2 ¾. He also ranks fourth in NCAA history with the height.

He will compete again at the USA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, June 22-24. After that, he will come to Kansas City for a month before leaving to head back to college.

Nilsen wasn’t the only Park Hill grad to earn All-American honors.

Oklahoma freshman Papay Glaywulu finished his season in the men’s triple jump by placing 14th with a jump of 52-0.5 (15.68 meters) to garner second team All-American status. He concludes his freshman year with seven top-five finishes and a seventh-place spot on the program top-10 list in the triple jump.

“I was very pleased with Papay Glaywulu, he looked like a guy that knew how to compete at the national championships and relative to the jumps he has had this year, that was probably his best jumps he’s had considering the conditions,” Oklahoma coach Jim VanHootegem said.