Olympic Trials Men’s Vault — Chris Nilsen Was Perfect

Chris Nilsen didn’t have a miss at 6 heights through his winning 19-4¼. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE OT VAULT is often a mental chess match. And this year’s emerging Grandmasters were the unshakable Chris Nilsen, the veteran Sam Kendricks, and the rookie KC Lightfoot — a vault trio which will represent the USA in the Tokyo Olympics.

In the prelims 18-6½ (5.65) was the required height to advance. Two-time reigning world champion Sam Kendricks was one of 6 competitors with no-miss cards. “I am not a smart guy but I am trained in pole vault,” proclaimed the American Recordholder, who underscored the importance of the qualifying round.

“You can’t look past the prelims, this is your finals,” offered the Rio bronze medalist. “This stadium is one of the best of the best and it took a high bar to make [the final].”

Two days later all 12 finalists remained in the hunt going into the third height, 18-8¼ (5.70). And half the field was still alive when the bar moved to the Olympic Standard of 19-¼ (5.80). That height was cleared by Nilsen and Matt Ludwig — both of whom were working on blemish-free cards — along with 21-year-old Lightfoot and Jake Wooten. After opening misses, crafty Kendricks and Kyle Pater passed.

Nilsen, Kendricks and new pro Lightfoot all had first attempt clearances at 19-2¼ (5.85), the first time 3 men had cleared that height in the Trials. Meanwhile, in another chess move, Ludwig, Wooten, and Pater all passed after first-attempt misses.

As the others bowed out, red-hot Nilsen, 23, clinched the victory when he was the sole remaining finalist to clear 19-4¼ (5.90), leaving Kendricks and Lightfoot tied for 2nd. Despite a close second-jump miss at 19-8¼ (6.00) he was unsuccessful in his attempt to join the 6 Meter Club.

“If you asked me a year ago if I would make the Olympic Trials, I would have said ‘No’. And if you asked me this morning I would have said ‘I don’t know,” revealed the winner. “Now I can just go to bed and be like, ‘I’m an Olympian, go to bed.’ I think if someone gave me a pillow, I’d just fall asleep on the turf right now.”

Afterwards, runner-up Kendricks waxed philosophically. “Absolute pride is the word,” he answered when asked about his post-competition feelings. “There were 12 men out there that brought the absolutely best tools they had to offer and they respected the game and they knew going in that they couldn’t all win. There’s this culture in my event that I wish we could share with the whole sport. You just can’t make a generation of guys come together like this. We all say going in that it’s going to be beautiful like this.”

And after a pause, the 28-year-old veteran added, “This’ll go down in history as the hardest team ever to make.”

MEN’S POLE VAULT RESULTS

(June 21)

1. Chris Nilsen (Nik) 19-4¼ (5.90)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼, 19-¼, 19-2¼, 19-4¼, 19-8¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70, 5.80, 5.85, 5.90, 6.00 [xxx]);

=2. Sam Kendricks (Nik) 19-2¼ (5.85)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼, 18-10¼, 19-¼ [xpp], 19-2¼, 19-4¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70, 5.75, 5.80 [xpp], 5.85, 5.90 [xxx]);

=2. KC Lightfoot (Puma) 19-2¼ (5.85) out PR

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼ [2], 18-10¼, 19-¼, 19-2¼, 19-4¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70 [2], 5.75, 5.80, 5.85, 5.90 [xxx]);

4. Matt Ludwig (unat) 19-¼ (5.80)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼, 18-10¼, 19-¼, 19-2¼ [xpp], 19-4¼ [xx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70, 5.75, 5.80, 5.85 [xpp], 5.90 [xx]);

5. Jacob Wooten (unat) 19-¼ (5.80)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼ [2], 18-10¼ [xpp], 19-¼ [2], 19-2¼ [xpp], 19-4¼ [xx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70 [2], 5.75 [xpp], 5.80 [2], 5.85 [xpp], 5.90 [xx]);

6. Andrew Irwin (unat) 18-10¼ (5.75)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼, 18-10¼, 19-¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70, 5.75, 5.80 [xxx]);

7. Scott Houston (Shore) 18-10¼ (5.75)

(17-10½ [2], 18-4½, 18-8¼ [2], 18-10¼ [3], 19-¼ [xxx]) (5.45 [2], 5.60, 5.70 [2], 5.75 [3], 5.80 [xxx]);

=8. Keaton Daniel (Ky) 18-8¼ (5.70) =PR

(17-10½, 18-4½ [2], 18-8¼, 19-¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60 [2], 5.70, 5.80 [xxx]);

=8. Branson Ellis (SFA) 18-8¼ (5.70)

(17-10½, 18-4½ [2], 18-8¼, 18-10¼ [xxp], 19-¼ [x]) (5.45, 5.60 [2], 5.70, 5.75 [xxp], 5.80 [x]);

10. Kyle Pater (USAF) 18-8¼ (5.70)

(17-10½ [2], 18-4½, 18-8¼ [2], 19-¼ [xpp], 19-2¼ [xpp], 19-4¼ [x]) (5.45 [2], 5.60, 5.70 [2], 5.80 [xpp], 5.85 [xpp], 5.90 [x]);

11. Carson Waters (BellAth) 18-8¼ (5.70) PR

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼ [3], 18-10¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70 [3], 5.75 [xxx]);

12. Austin Miller (Vaulth) 18-4½ (5.60)

(17-10½, 18-4½, 18-8¼ [xxx]) (5.45, 5.60, 5.70 [xxx]).

QUALIFYING (June 19)

Qualifiers: Miller cleared 18-4½/5.60; all other finalists cleared 18-6½/5.65 (Waters =PR);

Non-qualifiers:

[18-4½/5.60]—Clayton Fritsch (SamH), Cole Walsh (Nik), Ethan Bray (SD), Deakin Volz (unat);

[18-½/5.50]—Tray Oates (unat), Nate Richartz (Tracksm);

[17-8½/5.40]— Zach McWhorter (BYU), Michael Carr (BellAth), Audie Wyatt (unat), Zach Bradford (Ks), Adam Coulon (In);

… nh—Reese Watson (unat), Drew Volz (unat).

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