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South Dakota alum Chris Nilsen wins Olympic silver medal in pole vault

Nilsen had personal best performance on the Olympic stage

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Chris Nilsen of the United States celebrates after winning the silver medal during the Olympic men's pole vault final on Aug. 3, 2021 at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. (Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters)
REUTERS

TOKYO — The United States’ Chris Nilsen, the former University of South Dakota standout, claimed the silver medal in the Olympic men’s pole vault Tuesday night at the Tokyo Olympics.

Nilsen won the silver medal with a jump clearing 5.97 meters, or 19.59 feet. Pole vaulting phenom Armand Duplantis, of Sweden, won the gold medal by clearing 6.02 meters (19.75 feet).

After a miss at 5.80 meters, Nilsen, 23, rose to the occasion to clear the next three heights with only one miss, including clearing 5.97 meters on the first try to set a new personal best, eliciting a massive fist pump from the U.S. Olympic Trials champion after falling to the mat.

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Chris Nilsen of the United States celebrates after a jump during the Olympic men's pole vault final on Aug. 3, 2021 at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. (Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters)
REUTERS

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With just three participants clearing 5.87 meters, Nilsen knew he was assured at least a medal.

Nilsen’s previous season-best was 5.93 meters and it marked the fourth time in 2021 he’s cleared 5.92-meter bar or better.

Nilsen took three tries to try to clear the 6.02-meter mark but knocked off the bar each time. Duplantis, 21, cleared the mark on his first attempt, sealing the gold medal. Duplantis also took three chances at clearing the world record mark at 6.19 meters but knocked away the bar on the three tries.

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Chris Nilsen of the United States celebrates after a jump during the Olympic men's pole vault final on Aug. 3, 2021 at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. (Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters)
REUTERS

Duplantis, who was born and raised in Louisiana, represents Sweden, the home country of his mother. 2016 Olympic champion Thiago Braz, of Brazil, was the bronze medalist, clearing 5.87 meters.

A 2020 graduate of the USD, Nilsen was making his Olympic debut in Tokyo. He was perfect in the U.S. Olympic Trials, vaulting up to 19 feet, 4 1/4 inches without a miss in the competition to take home the gold.

The Kansas City native, who turned pro in 2020 and still trains in Vermillion, has cleared 19 feet four times in 2021 and at one point had the top mark in the world -- 19 feet 4 3/4 on May 10

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Nilsen was following in the footsteps of his coach and fellow USD alum Derek Miles, who qualified for three Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and earned the bronze medal in the pole vault in 2008.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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