DAVID BEAT GOLIATH. The only thing wrong with using that metaphor for the NCAA vault is that “David” was the big, herking collegiate vet (Chris Nilsen) and “Goliath” was the wispy frosh (Mondo Duplantis). It might seem strange for Nilsen to have found himself in the underdog role, given his status as the defending champion and owner of four 19-foot meets already this year. But nobody was begrudging Mondo’s status as the favorite, given his transcendent body of work over the last year. He came in with a half-dozen 19-footers, including the world’s only 6-meter (19-8¼) clearance on the year so far.
The extended competition, despite (or because of?) a more aggressive progression than usual, would carry on for no fewer than 11 heights, with a record dozen vaulters breaking the 18-foot barrier (previous high 9 in ’91). Rain earlier in the day delayed the planned start by 2 hours, but things ended up perfect for vaulting in a venue known to be generous in giving up high heights.
The two biggies both passed 17-¾ (5.20), then Nilsen opened at 17-6½ (5.35) with a make. At 18-½ (5.50) each needed a pair, surprisingly, as a dozen moved on to 18-4½ (5.60), where only 3 were eliminated. Nilsen cleared on first, but was still only in =3rd as surprising PR-setters Michael Carr (Arkansas State) and Drew McMichael (Texas Tech) led with perfect records. Mondo passed again.
On to 18-8¼ (5.70) with an unprecedented 9 still involved, with only 1 being knocked out. Nilsen and Duplantis were joined by KC Lightfoot as first-time clearers, all three now sharing the lead as the crosspiece was raised to 18-10¼ (5.75). The two heavyweights passed, with the lead being handed off to the only successful performer, Stephen F. Austin’s Clayton Fritsch, with a PR.
The first to jump at 19-¼ (5.80), Mondo began to assert himself with one of the monster clearances that have come to typify his career. Fritsch would miss all three of his shots and Nilsen was over on his second. So David & Goliath (or was it Goliath & David?) were set to go head-to-head at 19-2¼ (5.85), but even though it was a meet record setting, both passed, again taking up arms at 19-4¼ (5.90), PR territory for the defending champ. After a Mondo miss, Nilsen slithered over, garnering a pat on the back from his friendly rival, who then passed, choosing to save 2 tries for 19-6¼ (5.95). He missed his first and then Nilsen made solid contact with the bar, but it stayed, giving him another PR. Replays from the standard-cam showed the crosspiece sliding across most of the width of the pegs before coming to a halt. Mondo’s final try wasn’t close and Nilsen’s attempts at a CR 19-8½ (6.01) were anticlimactic, but the winner had moved to No. 3 on the all-time collegiate list.
Said Nilsen, after a marvelous all-around day of vaulting, “I had a Texas tailwind, and it’s a really good spot to jump. I’m not really coming out of this thinking, ‘Oh I beat Mondo,’ because he still jumped higher than me way more times. He’s jumped 6.05 before. I’m happy to be taking shots at the Collegiate Record.”
Said Duplantis, who was working his way through some larger poles, “I have to tip my hat to Chris. That was an outstanding day by him. It was a remarkable day. He was just better than me and I didn’t adjust.”
NCAA MEN’S POLE VAULT RESULTS
1. *Chris Nilsen (SD) 19-6¼ (5.95) PR (AL, AmCL) (9, x A; 3, 3 C; 2, 2 AmC; 1, 1 NCAA) (MR)
(also 19-4¼ MR [AmCL, out AL] [=4, =7 C; =2, =2 AmC]);
2. ***Mondo Duplantis’ (LSU) 19-¼ (5.80) (=3, =5 NCAA);
3. **Clayton Fritsch (SHous) 18-10¼ (5.75) PR (5, 9 NCAA);
4. ***KC Lightfoot (Bay) 18-8¼ (5.70) (=6, x NCAA);
5. Michael Carr (ArSt) 18-8¼ PR (=6, x NCAA);
6. ***Zach Bradford (Ks) 18-8¼ (=6, x NCAA);
7. *Brandon Bray (TxT) 18-8¼ PR (=6, x NCAA);
8. Drew McMichael (TxT) 18-4½ (5.60) PR;
9. ***Sondre Guttormsen’ (UCLA) 18-4½;
10. *Adam Coulon (In) 18-½ (5.50);
=11. ***Branson Ellis (SFA) 18-½;
=11. Deakin Volz (VaT) 18-½;
=13. *Sean Clarke (Penn) 17-6½ (5.35);
=13. Matt Ludwig (Akr) 17-6½;
=15. *Christian Champen (Kent) 17-6½ PR;
=15. *Chase Smith (Wa) 17-6½;
=15. Jacob Wooten (TxAM) 17-6½;
18. **Cole Courtois (LaT) 17-6½;
=19. **Erick Duffy (Harv) 17-¾ (5.20);
=19. Carl Johansson (TxAM) 17-¾;
=21. **Brock Mammoser (In) 17-¾;
=21. **Matthew Peare (Ky) 17-¾;
… nh—*Matthew Keim (Akr), Sean Collins (SAl).
(best-ever mark-for-NCAA-place: 1–11)