Step by step, Chris Nilsen has risen to the top of the pole vault world

VERMILLION, SD– Find and pursue what you love and you might never work a day in your life.

“I didn’t want to do something that I didn’t like to do. So I wanted to figure out how to do this professionally because that’s what I love to do, ”said Nilsen.

Nilsen first burst onto the pole vault scene as a prep star in Kansas City.

“The junior year, I won the Missouri State Championship. I jumped 17 feet to win and that’s when I got a call from Derek Miles, ”said Nilsen.

Miles, the associate director of athletics at USD, and a three-time Olympic himself, knew Nilsen had all the physical tools to be special.

“The first time I saw him was during a home visit. I went home and he was 6’4, 6’5 as a junior in high school. So a pretty big kid and he had the build that most coaches are looking for, ”Miles said.

But the mental side of Nilsen’s job was still developing.

“If I want to make it a job, I’m going to have to try to make it a job and not just do it 2-5 on the track when I go out to train every day.” Nilson said. “So the work ethic probably didn’t come until the first year of college. While in first year I was still working hard, in second year I was still working hard, but I was more focused on fun than work and now I would say I’m more focused on work.

“It was my goal to guide him through these challenges and help him move to the other side where he has opportunities and options and create a path for himself to be successful,” said Miles.

Success would come, and it would come often. Six-time All-American at the USD, three-time national pole vault champion and now Olympian, Nilsen had to adjust his mind.

“There is still pride, but it has become negative pride like pride; to the pride of my country, to the pride of my family and to the pride of my sport and my neighbor, ”said Nilsen.

No matter how Nilsen fares later this month in Tokoyo, or what he accomplishes the rest of his career, he just wants to be seen like anyone else.

“At the end of the day, I don’t really think anyone on the USD team considers me a national champion, an Olympian, they all see me as ‘hey, this is Chris.’ They can text me or snap chat anytime and I’ll respond and hang out with them, “Nilsen said.” I think we’re friends before something really cool or big happens and I kind of want to keep it that way. I don’t want to be seen as Olympian Chris Nilsen, I want to be seen as Chris Nilsen, the guy who goes DD for us or something, ”Nilsen said with a laugh.


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