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KCUR follows the Kansas City athletes competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Kansas City Pole Vaulter Lands Silver Medal At Tokyo Olympics

Matthias Schrader
Christopher Nilsen, of the United States, celebrates after winning the silver medal in the men's pole vault final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday in Tokyo.

Chris Nilsen's family set their clocks to rise in the predawn hours to watch him compete in Tokyo, and say they're thrilled with his performance.

Chris Nilsen's mom and the rest of his family were joined by a group of friends early this morning for a small watch party as he turned in the best pole vault of his career and earned a silver medal at the 2020 Olympics.

"We were absolutely insane here at the house," Karen Nilsen said. "We were just over the moon ecstatic for him and so proud of him."

The Park Hill High School graduate cleared a personal best — 5.97 meters (more than 19.5 feet) to win silver in Tokyo. His teammate, KC Lightfoot, from Lee's Summit, finished in fourth place.

"Chris and KC Lightfoot have been competing against each other for a number of years," Nilsen's mom recalled. "They started in high school; they're only two years apart ... they're great friends."

Nilsen won this year's Olympic trials in June. At the time, he was asked to reflect on the 2016 Olympic trials, which were his first. He responded, "If you told him (Nilsen as an 18-year-old in 2016) you were going to win the Olympic trials in 2021, he would've slapped you in the face and said, 'That's stupid. Don't ever tell me that again.'"

At 23, Nilson can already savor not only a win at the Olympic trials but a medal at the Summer Games.

Nilsen is expected back in Kansas City by the weekend. His family says Nilsen, who is a professional pole vaulter sponsored by Nike, has a meet in Eugene, Oregon, later this month. And, he has already started thinking about what's next.

"Depending on how healthy Chris stays," explained Karen Nilsen, "we're looking, hopefully, forward to Paris in 2024 and then also to Los Angeles in 2028."

As KCUR’s Enterprise Editor, I want to help our audience expand their understanding of what is (and is not) news by embracing a multi-faceted portrait of underserved communities, explaining the implications of public policy, and highlighting the creative beauty and human triumph that offsets the challenges of our times. You can email me at vickie@kcur.org.
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