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Olympic Medalist Returns To Hero's Welcome In Vermillion

Kyle Ireland

After an Olympic alumnus from the University of South Dakota brought home the silver medal and a personal best, the USD community gave him a hero’s welcome Friday in Vermillion.

A police escort and a roaring crowd met Chris Nilsen as he approached the Muenster University Center at USD. Hundreds of people gathered there to congratulate him.

Credit Kyle Ireland / SDPB
Olympic silver-medalist pole vaulter Chris Nilsen celebrates with a crowd of supporters Friday in Vermillion.

Nilsen is a six-time?NCAA Division I?First Team All-American, and a three-time?NCAA?Track and field?pole-vault?champion. At the Olympics, he cleared a new personal best of 19 feet, 7 inches. He says fame was never his goal.

“I've never really been one for big crowds, or being the center of attention or anything like that. But, you know, you never really realize how many people are supporting you from other places that you just don't know until you see them all in one room when you're talking in front of them.”

Derek Miles is Nilsen’s coach and a former Olympian himself. He didn’t think about Nilsen’s personal record until after it happened.

“You just approach it like, let's go over, let's get over this thing and let's go. I don't think I even really thought for a minute about the fact that it was a PR. I think I was just more focused on what he had to do to execute.”

Nilsen appreciates his silver medal but was just as thrilled to break his personal record.

“Extremely exciting and to be able to do it at the Olympic spot, I know it's like the culmination of every 5-year-old’s dream when they said they wanted to grow up and be an Olympic athlete. I just got to actually live it out. It's just, it's a weird, euphoric experience that I'm never ever going to forget.”

After a short recovery period, Chris Nilsen will continue competing internationally.

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