Chris Nilsen was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri and did not start pole vaulting until later in his high school career. However, this did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest high school pole vaulters ever. As a senior at Park Hill, he set the then national high school record of 5.61m/18’4.75” and qualified for the Olympic Trials. Following his high school success, Chris attended the University of South Dakota where he was a 6-time NCAA All-American (missed out on 2 NCAA Championships due to the coronavirus) and 3-time NCAA Champion, twice outdoors and once indoors. While at USD, Chris also set the NCAA outdoor meet record, once at 5.83m/19’1.5” and again at 5.95m/19’5.5”. Chris also holds the NACAC indoor and outdoor records (5.75m/18’10.5” and 5.70m/18’8.25”). In 2017, Chris represented the USA at the World Championships in London and the Pan-Am Games in 2019 where he took the gold medal with a jump and meet record of 5.76m/18’10.75”.
In 2021, Chris won the Olympic Trials with a jump of 5.90m/19’4.5” and again represented the United States, this time at the Tokyo Olympics. There, Chris won the silver medal with a clearance of 5.97m/19’7.5”, a new PB. To continue his streak of big jumps, Chris set the Indoor American Record in France with a huge jump of 6.02m/19’9”, yet another PB, and not long after, broke his own American Record with a jump of 6.05m/19’10.5”. Chris is now the 7th American man to clear the 6.00m barrier and only fellow #TeamESSX athlete, Sam Kendricks, has jumped higher (6.06m/19’11.25”) for the USA.
He currently lives and trains in Vermillion, South Dakota with fellow #TeamESSX athlete Emily Grove and under the guidance of 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist, Derek Miles.
- Highest World Ranking: 2 (77 weeks)
- 6-time NCAA Division I All-American
- 3-time NCAA Divison I Champion (2017i, 2018, 2019MR)
- 2019 Pan Am Games Champion
- 2021 USA Olympic Trials Champion
- 2021 Tokyo Olympics Silver Medal
- 2022 World Championship Silver Medal
- American Record Holder indoors 6.05m/19’10.25”
- Member of the 6.00m/19’8.25” club (25 members)
- 1 of 5 men in history to clear the 6.00m barrier indoors and outdoors
- Indoors – 6.05m/19’10.25”
- Outdoors – 6.00m/19’8.25”