Park Hill’s Nilsen vaults to top of national rankings

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Park Hill High's Chris Nilsen recently became one of just nine high school pole vaulters in history to clear the 18-foot barrier.

But he admits pole vaulting didn’t always come easily.

“I kind of planted the pole went up in the air a little bit and I said wait no and I started going backward and I landed on my butt,” Nilsen said of his first pole vaulting attempt as a freshman.

He continued falling backwards for the next two hours, but the school's pole vaulting coach at the time, Stephanie Yuen, continued to encourage him. Yuen was his middle school English teacher and the reason he tried pole vaulting in the first place.

Before long the problem wasn’t clearing the bar, it was finding one high enough for Nilsen to vault over.

“I was like we’re going to have to get bigger than 17-foot standards, and my A.D. was like, yeah you are.”

Nilsen set the Missouri State Meet record of 17 feet last year, and a Kansas Relay record of 17’6.5" this year.

“As pole vaulters we always strive to fall longer, so whenever we raise the bar you are more excited for the fall,” Nilsen said.

Then at his home track this year during Varsity Conferences he raised that bar to historic heights.

"The lady comes on the p.a. and says 'Chris Nilsen is about to jump 18 feet that would be the 9th time anyone has ever done that in high school' and I was like what?” Coach Self recalled.

Self sprinted from the press box to the area of the pit just in time to capture the moment on his cell phone camera.

“Just doing it over a bar made me feel like I can actually keep raising the bar,” Nilsen said.

Nilsen will compete in the District Competition this weekend at Excelsior Springs, then likely Sectionals and State.

He needs to go just three inches higher to set the national high school record, and six inches to qualify for the Olympic trials.

Nilsen earned a scholarship to continue pole vaulting at the University of South Dakota. The high flyer also does the high jump for fun. Last year he finished fourth in the state in that competition.

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