USATF Men’s Vault — Summit Yields Nilsen 3-Peat

Just a single miss sullied Chris Nilsen’s card in his third-straight climb to the top of the podium. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

THE ECSTASY and the agony: this event, like many others, produced both emotions, in a surprising finish that few could have expected.

It began as a summit meeting, so to speak. The new AR claimant, KC Lightfoot, was hoping to improve on his recent 19-11 (6.07) mark en route to a WC success that had eluded him thus far.

His recordsetting predecessor, Sam Kendricks, was rebounding from disappointing ’21 and ’22 seasons, when COVID and injuries ended his medal chances.

The top U.S. vaulter the past two seasons, Chris Nilsen, with runner-up positions behind a certain Swede in the two major championships, wanted another opportunity against his nemesis, and to regain his 6-meter-plus form.

The competition began, with the typical Hayward Field backstretch breezes providing the vaulters with a slight runway push. Atypically for a major championship meet, no one of note was missing. All 17 who had cleared 18-8¾ (5.71) this year were in attendance.

Three vaulters were eliminated at 18-1 (5.51), the opening height. Three more departed at 18-4¾ (5.61). Kendricks had a potentially damaging miss on his first try at 18-8¾, but cleared cleanly on his second. Five more were eliminated.

Six remained at 18-10¾ (5.76), and all advanced, but only Kendricks on his first attempt. Lightfoot had perhaps the day’s best vault with a monster clearance on his second, and Nilsen needed all three tries.

At 19-¾ (5.81) Nilsen moved into 1st with an initial clearance, promptly tied by Zach Bradford. The other Zach, McWhorter, hit the bar on his second attempt but it stayed on, for a new PR. Jacob Wooten was eliminated.

19-2¾ (5.86) was the decisive height. Nilsen was over on his first, and McWhorter on his third, eliciting a scene of great jubilation. Kendricks and Bradford were eliminated. But fate had other plans for Lightfoot, who grabbed his left thigh on his first attempt, came out of the pit limping badly and tossed his pole in frustration. Nilsen tried to assist him, unsuccessfully.

For the next half-hour, as shadows encroached on the field, the drama focused on Lightfoot, who tried everything imaginable to loosen what seemed to be a bad hamstring cramp. He stretched, used a roller, massager, jogged a bit, stretched some more — to no avail. He passed ensuing heights, but was unable to continue.

Meanwhile, McWhorter made only one more attempt, at 19-4¾ (5.91), which he missed, while Nilsen cleared cleanly on his first attempt for the win. After three unsuccessful tries at 19-6¾ (5.96), the competition ended, and Bradford joined the top 2 on the Budapest team.


(July 08)

1. Chris Nilsen (Nike) 19-4¾ (5.91);

2. Zach McWhorter (unat) 19-2¾ (5.86) PR;

3. Zach Bradford (TxT) 19-¾ (5.81);

=4. Sam Kendricks (Nike) 19-¾ (5.81);

=4. KC Lightfoot (Puma) 19-¾ (5.81);

6. Jacob Wooten (unat) 18-10¾ (5.76);

7. Matt Ludwig (unat) 18-4¾ (5.61);

8. Trevor Stephenson (MiSt) 18-4¾ (5.61);

=9. Carson Waters (unat) & Hunter Garretson (Akr) 18-4¾ (5.61); 11. Clayton Simms (Ks) 18-4¾ (5.61); 12. Austin Miller (unat) 18-1 (5.51); 13. Branson Ellis (unat) 18-1 (5.51); 14. Luke Winder (RISE) 18-1 (5.51);… nh—Keaton Daniel (Ky), Clayton Fritsch (unat), Tray Oates (unat).

18-1 18-4¾ 18-8¾ 18-10¾ 19-¾ 19-2¾ 19-4¾ 19-6½
Kendricks o o xo o xo xxx
Daniel xxx
McWhorter o o o xo xo xxo x pp
Wooten o xo o xo xxx
Fritsch xxx
Ellis xo xxx
Winder xxo xxx
Garretson o xxo xxx
Waters o xxo xxx
Nilsen o o o xxo o o o xxx
Miller o xxx
Stephenson xxo o xxx
Oates xxx
Simms xo xxo xxx
Bradford o o xo xo o xxx
Ludwig o o xxx
Lightfoot o o o xo xo x pp
5.51 5.61 5.71 5.76 5.81 5.86 5.91 5.96