Tea resident, Derek Miles helps coach Nilsen to Olympic silver in Tokyo



South Dakota alumnus Chris Nilsen captured an Olympic silver medal in the pole vault, clearing a new personal best of 19 feet, 7 inches, on Tuesday at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The field remained in full-strength through 19-0 ¼ (5.80m) inside the Olympic Stadium, but it quickly dwindled to only four men after Nilsen cleared 19-3 (5.87m).

After that height, the remaining vaulters joining Nilsen were 2016 Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie and world record-holder Mondo Duplantis.

It would be only Nilsen and Duplantis to clear the next height of 19-5 (5.92m), turning the competition into a rematch of the 2019 NCAA Championships. Nilsen would be the first to clear 19-7 (5.97m) and in the process achieved a new personal best performance. However, it was Duplantis who came out the victor clearing 19-9 (6.02m).

A 2020 graduate of the University of South Dakota, Nilsen medaled in his Olympic debut. Nilsen brings home the silver from Tokyo for Team USA. Nilsen’s silver was the highest pole vault finish by an American since 2004.

Nilsen was the gold medalist at the 2019 Pan American Games and also competed with Team USA at the 2017 World Championships. As a collegian at South Dakota, Nilsen was a three-time NCAA Champion, the 2020 USTFCCCA National Field Athlete of the Year and graduated with the NCAA indoor record in the pole vault. He vaulted a personal best of 19-6 ¼ (5.95m) at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships, breaking his own meet record.

Nilsen is USD’s fourth-ever Olympian on record. He follows in the footsteps of his coach, Derek Miles, who qualified for three Olympics – 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London. Miles earned the bronze in the pole vault at the 2008 Olympic Games.

Miles entered his 19th season with South Dakota track and field in 2020-21. He is the associate director of track and field, working with the pole vault and multis.

Miles has turned the South Dakota vault program into one of the premiere programs in the nation. He has coached 25 All-Americans at the Division I level, including a pair of national champions in Bethany Buell and Nilsen. The Coyotes’ men’s and women’s pole vault squads ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively, by the USTFCCCA for the second-straight year in 2020.

Miles, a native of Citrus Heights, Calif., was a five-time All-American in the pole vault at USD. He also qualified for the D-II National Championships in the long jump, triple jump and decathlon during his collegiate career.

Post-collegiately Miles was one of the best professional pole vaulters in the world for over a decade.

A three-time Olympian (finishing 3rd in Beijing 2008, 7th in Athens 2004 and qualified for London in 2012) Miles has represented the United States on six world championship teams and been a 3-time U.S. National Champion. Over his lengthy career, he has been ranked number 1 in the US four times and top five in the world six times by Track and Field News Magazine. He also organized the Miles Pole Vault Summit which brought 10 of the top vaulters in the world, including four U.S. Olympians and 2 Olympic medalists to Vermillion in 2007. Miles retired with a personal best of 19-2 1/4 (5.85m).

Miles was inducted into the Henry Heider Memorial Coyote Sports Hall of Fame in the fall of 2006 and the USATFCCCA DII Hall of Fame in May of 2013. Miles was inducted to the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in 2018.

Miles earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1996 and a master’s degree in athletic administration in 1998 from USD. He met his wife, Tori (Devericks), while in school. Tori was also a track and field All-American for the Coyotes. Tori is now a coach for the Tea Area High School track and field team and English Language Art teacher in the middle school for the Tea Area School District.

Miles and his wife, Tori, reside in Tea, with their son, Ariston.