ELMHURST, Ill. – Of the 10 collegiate men vying for track & field's most prestigious honor, one of them hails from a Summit League institution.
South Dakota's Chris Nilsen was named a semifinalist for The Bowerman as announced by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Thursday afternoon. The Bowerman—equated to the Heisman trophy of track & field—is the highest collegiate honor the sport has to offer and is awarded to the top male and female student-athletes at the conclusion of each calendar year.
The field of 10 will be whittled down to three by the end of the month, and the winner will be decided in mid-December at the USTFCCCA's annual convention.
To say Nilsen's semifinalist recognition is a surprise would be somewhat of an insult to the sophomore from Kansas City, Mo., given the incredible year he has pieced together with the pole vault in his hands.
During the indoor season, Nilsen earned the league's Athlete of the Week title four different times, was honored as the National Athlete of the Week on February 20 by the USTFCCCA, took home the Midwest Indoor Field Athlete of the Year title and finished as a first-team All-American at NCAA Indoors with a runner-up placement in the pole vault.
The Summit League Indoor Field Athlete of the Year did not slow down when the calendar flipped to the outdoor season, either. At the last meet before outdoor league championships, Nilsen cleared a lifetime best bar set at 19' 2.75" (5.86m). That vault solidified Nilsen's spot at the top of the 2018 NCAA performance list and propelled him to No. 4 in the world rankings this season and No. 4 on the NCAA's all-time performance list.
That was the highlight of his season…until it wasn't.
Competing at outdoor nationals inside Historic Hayward Field, Nilsen broke the NCAA Championship meet record in the men's pole vault—one that stood 22 years—with a 19' 1.5" (5.83m) mark en route to securing the second national title of his young career.
Still, acknowledging Nilsen as a semifinalist for collegiate track & field's most admired award is no small potatoes. In fact, it is quite the opposite: Nilsen is only the second Summit Leaguer ever—male or female—to earn such a nod. The only other league athlete to do so? Southern Utah's Cameron Levins in 2012, who went onto win The Bowerman that year.
That is not to say the past will predict the future. However, it does speak to the unprecedented excellence we are witnessing from Nilsen in the present day. Whether he makes the final field of three is irrelevant—although it would certainly be another nice feather in his crowded cap. What truly matters is not taking for granted the greatness we are watching unfold right before our eyes.
The Bowerman Men's Semifinalists
Rai Benjamin, Southern California, Jr., Sprints/Hurdles
Denzel Comenentia, Georgia, Jr., Throws
Tim Duckworth, Kentucky, Sr., Multis
Elijah Hall, Houston, Sr., Sprints
Grant Holloway, Florida, So., Hurdles/Jumps
Josh Kerr, New Mexico, So., Middle Distance
Chris Nilsen, South Dakota, So., Pole Vault
Michael Norman, Southern California, So., Sprints
Anderson Peters, Mississippi State, RS-Fr., Throws
Michael Saruni, UTEP, So., Distance