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Smithtown West's Karl Nilsen vaults into record book

Smithtown West pole vaulter Karl Nilsen stood in a ready position, feeling the wind in his face. He looked straight ahead, concentrating on the task at hand. The pre-jump silence was broken by the sound of clapping. Nilsen wasn't bothered by the sound of encouragement. Instead, he latched on to it.

"The clapping plays a big role," Nilsen said. "Pole vaulting is a rhythmic thing. It's not like when you're sprinting and you go all out. You have to have proper strides and proper form during a run."

The noise helped in a big way. Nilsen cleared 14 feet at yesterday's Knight-Time Invitational at Uniondale High School. He won the event and broke the previous meet record of 13 feet, 3 inches -- set in 2008 by Cardel Clemonds of Brooklyn's South Shore High School.

"I jumped a lot," Nilsen said. "I took a lot of attempts. I made those last attempts count. It is my senior year. I'm not going to be back here next year. I thought about that a lot on my last attempts."

Nilsen had an extra opponent to contend with on the cloudy morning -- strong gusts of wind.

"The head winds made it twice as hard," Nilsen said. "This is a short sprint event. Your top speed matters in terms of how high you jump. It has a really direct effect, especially when you're running directly into it. It slows you down. It's almost like having a parachute."

Those unfortunate conditions concerned Nilsen when he began prepping for his opening jump.

"I was kind of bummed out," he said. "But I flipped that around and made it positive."

The record was only part of those positive results. His teammate Caleb Zhu finished third -- clearing 11-6. Nilsen has been mentoring Zhu, who is in his second season as a vaulter, since the junior took up the activity.

"That, to me, is such a booster," Nilsen said. "Teaching these kids how to vault is such a special thing. To have them jump higher and PR here is really awesome."

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