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Kansas City-area silver medalist reflects on Tokyo experience amid COVID-19

Tokyo Olympics Athletics
Posted at 6:00 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 00:31:40-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Park Hill graduate Chris Nilsen took home the silver medal after his pole vault performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place last August.

After vaulting 5.97 meters, the U.S. champion shared what it was like in Tokyo and what you can expect to happen behind the scenes for Olympic athletes in Beijing.

After his performance, Nilsen, 24, made history and made the Kansas City area proud.

After returning home he continued his medal tour speaking with students.

“They were all looking at me like I was this this celebrity, but I like to think that I’m decently levelheaded enough to tell them that I’m not,” he said. “I just trained, worked very hard and I got very lucky to the point where it was just, I was good on the day.”

Being "good" on that one Olympic day landed him a well-deserved silver medal.

“Being back is great,” he said. “I think, you know, being able to travel around and train and compete in all these cool places is really fun and it's exciting but, I don't think you ever get the same experience you do as training at home.”

Not to mention rigorous COVID-19 protocols in Tokyo.

“Getting off the plane in Japan for COVID, everyone was very serious about the whole thing,” he said. “I was at the airport, I landed, and for four to five hours I was doing COVID protocol.

Nilsen detailed more of the protocols he had to go through while in Tokyo.

"Getting tested, going through screening, showing off my vaccine card and showing off my PCR tests," he said. "Downloading the certain apps that people had to use to track me to see where I was, to either randomly COVID test me, or if they needed to come and test me because of contact tracing someone who had gotten COVID close to me. So we were never allowed to be more than six feet away from our phone.”

Nilsen said he was COVID tested three times before leaving the airport and tested every morning in the Olympic village.

“We weren't allowed to eat or drink anything,” Nilsen said. “We had to spit in a tube and then go and hand it to our USA Track and Field representative and then we could start the day with breakfast and coffee.”

At the end of the day, he says it’s worth it and the mandatory changes didn’t affect his experience.

“I would rather do that any day of the week than have the Olympics get canceled again or postponed,” he said.

Nilsen said because it’s your career and Olympic experience on the line.

“I think the cards are going to fall how they fall, unfortunately,” he said. “That's just how things happen and some people are going to get bit really badly. Most people who got COVID or were having to deal with COVID at the Olympics have either learned their lesson or they have learned how to move forward past it, which is good."