Posts Tagged ‘Steve Volko’

Top Stories from Denver Finals

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The last of the four cities that held the regional competitions for aspiring ninjas to qualify for the National Finals in Las Vegas of American Ninja Warrior 5 concluded last night on NBC.  It was a pretty thrilling finals in Denver, and we saw only 5 competitors complete the course out of 48 runners, by far the largest regional finals field we’ve ever seen in American Ninja Warrior.  Here are the top stories for me from the Denver finals:

Course Too Easy, Then Too Hard – The producers have a very challenging job every time they set up a course to find that elusive balance of building a hard yet achievable course.  Both the viewers and producers I don’t think like to see too many people finish the course, because it makes it look too easy and too surmountable by mortal folks, but they also don’t like it to be too insanely difficult that nobody can clear it.  In Denver more than any other region in recent memory the course swung from one end of the spectrum of difficulty in the preliminary qualifying round to the other end of the spectrum in the finals round.  The preliminary opening round in Denver was probably the easiest course in American Ninja Warrior history with 49 of approximately 130 runners clearing the whole course.  Then with a few adjustments for the finals round, including increasing the distance of a couple of the obstacles in the first part of the course that runners had already experience in prelims, it suddenly became such a difficult course that only 5 athletes out of 48 in a very strong field were able to clear the course.  I don’t point this out to criticize either course design in any way, because as we’ve seen in past years it is very hard to calibrate the “optimal difficulty” of a given course, just that for me as a viewer and a competitor the extremes of course difficulties was one of the top stories of Denver.

Paul Kasemir Just Consistently Awesome, Clocks Top Time – The soft-spoken 26 year old software engineer is a three-time Mt Midoriyama veteran, and one of the most consistently awesome competitors in American Ninja Warrior.  This cerebral and focused competitor sped through the course with seemingly little effort to register the fastest time of the Denver finals.  I actually don’t know Paul personally, but as a fan he’s one of my favorite competitors.

Rock Climbers Dominate (Josh Cook, Brian Arnold, Isaac Caldiero, Colby Frontier) – A recurring theme of American Ninja Warrior 5 has been “the rise of the rock-climbers.”  I’ve long thought that elite rock-climbers would soon populate the upper echelon of competitors, and this is the year that prediction is apparently coming true.  It would be a dramatic overstatement to call myself much of a rock-climber, but having had rock-climbing as the foundation of my training my first years competing in American Ninja Warrior showed to me that the ridiculous grip strength and stamina of rock-climbers lends itself very well to the advanced stages of American Ninja Warrior.  I believe it’s more than just their grip strength and stamina which gives them an edge in ANW, but also the total body control that they have which was elegantly demonstrated by several rock-climbers who flowed through the difficult Pole Grasper utilizing all four appendages very gracefully.  4 of the 5 competitors who cleared the course in the Denver finals are fairly elite rock-climbers, including professionals Isaac Caldiero and Brian Arnold (I know Paul Kasemir climbs, but I think his base is more parkour than climbing).  After this season I’m pretty sure most serious American Ninja Warrior competitors will be hitting the rock-climbing gyms harder than ever.

Sam Sann Delivers Inspiring Performance – 46 year old Sam Sann ran on a badly injured ankle and delivered one of the most inspiring runs in American Ninja Warrior history by making it all the way to the Warped Wall and then up it on his final heroic 3rd attempt.  Him kissing the top of the Warped Wall once he got to the top on his bad ankle is a memory for the annals of the competition.  With an inspiring back story of growing up in and fleeing from Cambodia during the conflicts throughout Southeast Asia in the late 60s and early 70s, this ageless wonder will be a fan favorite for years to come.

APEX Athletes Struggle – Aside from Paul Kasemir who finished with the top time, a number of other incredible athletes who train at APEX together who we are used to seeing dominate struggled in the Denver Finals.  After witnessing a breathtaking display of speed and dominance in the preliminary round of Denver by speedsters Brandon Douglass, Jake Smith, Amos Rendao, and Tre Sussy Vaughn (not shown on TV but still with a speedy time), we saw speed-demon Brandon Douglass have to withdraw with an injury, Jake Smith fall on the first run of the Floating Stairs, Amos Rendao fall on the first rung of the Salmon Ladder, and Tre Sussy Vaughn fall early on that spinning bridge thingy (blanking on the name).  Although Jake Smith still was able to advance to the National Finals based on his fast time through the Salmon Ladder, after past years’ performances and their awe-inspiring runs in the opening round of Denver, their struggles in the finals round was surprising to many viewers.

Floating Stairs for Real – The immediate transition to the Floating Stairs from the Salmon Ladder clearly tested the stamina of even top-level ninjas.  As Akbar pointed out, the Floating Stairs is an obstacle that most ninjas would cruise through if it were at the beginning of the course and people could attack it with fresh muscles and grip, but it was something else entirely later in the course, and right after the Salmon Ladder.  Legitimate studs who have proven themselves top competitors in past seasons failed here, including Lorin Ball, Josh Grant, Jake Smith and Steve Volcko, as well as Camilo Brokaw, Caleb Garnham, and Chris Romrell.

These are the competitors from Denver who advanced to the National Finals of American Ninja Warrior 5, in order of finish:

  1. Paul Kasemir – Clear
  2. Josh Cook – Clear
  3. Brian Arnold – Clear
  4. Isaac Caldiero – Clear
  5. Colby Frontiero – Clear
  6. Casey Finley – Failed Pole Grasper
  7. Tremayne Dortch – Failed Pole Grasper
  8. Kyle Sinacori – Failed Pole Grasper
  9. Andres De La Rosa – Failed Pole Grasper
  10. Chris Romrell – Failed Floating Stairs
  11. Lorin Ball – Failed Floating Stairs
  12. Jake Smith – Failed Floating Stairs
  13. Caleb Garnham – Failed Floating Stairs
  14. Camilo Brokaw – Failed Floating Stairs
  15. Josh Grant – Failed Floating Stairs

National Finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Here is a list of the 90 national finalists in American Ninja Warrior 4 who advanced to Las Vegas to compete on the Mt. Midoriyama replica uber-course that was built there. There will be 10 wildcards added to these 90 competitors to make an even 100 runners, which is the traditional number that competed in the original Ninja Warrior Japan (Sasuke) for many years. The identity of these wildcards will be revealed when the show airs.

15 finalists from each of the 6 regions (listed below in order of finish) fought their way through their respective regional rounds and then the regional finals to advance to the first finals of American Ninja Warrior held in the US. Mad props to all these competitors, and hit LIKE to applaud them and share this list to spread the word of their awesomeness!

Southwest
Evan Dollard
Jesse La Flair
Kole Stevens
Remi Bakkar
Brent Steffenson
Chad Simpson
Derek Nakamoto
Dorian Cedars
Dan Mast
Paul Darnell
Sedderick Bassett
Ryan Thompson
Dylan Curry
Ronnie Shalvis Jr
Michael “Frosti” Zernow

Midwest
Matthew Derouen
Andrew Karsen
Jack Morgan
Stephen Volcko
Arthur Skov
Michael Silenzi
Nick ‘Lovin’ Stephforn
Johnathan Morin
Scott Robinson
Will Dodd
Joshua Grant
Andrew Lowes
Nate Aye
Nick Kostner
Cade Halada

Northeast
Tim Shieff
Luis Moco
Dan Galiczynski
Chris Wilczewski
Elet Hall
Travis Graves
Jesse Villareal
Christopher DiGangi
Andrew Wood
Danny Johnson
Bradley Smith Jr.
Phillip Pirollo
John Sapinoso
Matt Mings
Michael Pericoloso

Northwest
James McGrath
Travis Furlanic
David Campbell
Sean Noble
Kyle Cochrane
Justin Sweeney
Josh Horsley
Nathan Sausedo
Justin Walcker
J.B. Douglas
Kevan Reoli
Ben Snead
Brian Kretsch
Gunner Bahn
Patrick McGrath

Midsouth
Paul Kasemir
Brandon Douglass
Brian Arnold
Jaret Salas
Kevin Klein
Sat Khalsa
Ahmed Toure
Josh Lobeck
Lorin Ball
Jake Smith
Bob Pondrom
Nathaniel Spencer
James Wyatt
Tremayne Dortch
Alan Connealy

Southeast
David “Flip” Rodriguez
Drew Dreschel
Travis Rosen
Jared “J.J.” Woods
Michael Ekhert
Bull Bullard
Sean Morris
William Brown
Thomas Hall
Brendan Kelly
Andy Taylor
Adam Grossman
Niko Bogucki
Tony Reddick
Paul O’Connor

My Regional Run – The Voices in My Head

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Some of you may have tuned in and watched the Midwest regionals last night on G4.  For the first time in 3 seasons they aired my run and did a nice little background piece about this crazy-ass 40 year old who drives for days with his kids in tow just for a chance to get a walkon spot.  In the piece they showed some nice shots of my training, included a shout-out to this blog (surprisingly), and aired a couple of adorable shots of my cute little kids!

Having to go the walkon route, and not knowing I was going to actually get a shot to run until pretty soon before I was standing on the starting line, I was psyched just to get my crack at the course.  Ask any ninja what he or she most fundamentally wants, and it’s just the chance to try.  Of course, we all want to go far into the course, but the difference between the binary world of “getting to try” versus “not getting to try” is the biggest gulf in potential experiences.  So I was just thrilled to get a shot as a walkon and to be standing at that starting line.

Although it was edited to look like I ran late in the day, I was actually the 5th person to attempt the course that day.  You see, they usually have a handful of walkons try the course out first for any “bugs” or flaws in it before wasting the attempts of the guaranteed runners.  Two of the three runners right before me fell on the Quad Steps, and knowing that super-stud Levi Meeuwenberg had fallen on the Quad Steps in Venice I was more than a little nervous about sharing their fate.

These are my obstacle-by-obstacle notes of my opening round regional run, complete with a running commentary of the Voices in My Head that chattered at me while I was on the course:

QUAD STEPS – As I mentioned, I was more than a little concerned about the Quad Steps.  But when the buzzer sounded I coasted right through them using the cautious “triple step” technique.  I remember hitting the platform at the end and thinking “Thank God!  At least you didn’t fall on the first obstacle!  It’s all gravy from here.”

LOG GRIP – I wasn’t too concerned about the Log Grip.  I took my time and made certain I grabbed the divots that I had planned to use, and then just jumped and held on.  It’s important to get a grip where you still have some bend in your arms to absorb the shock of the drops.

BRIDGE OF BLADES – I wasn’t too concerned about this obstacle either.  When the blades are oriented as an X you can just scoot right down the center pretty briskly without any problems.  This is how the blades were set in American Ninja Warrior 3 (last year) and 4 (this year).  In American Ninja Warrior 2, the blades were set up as a + and many many good ninjas fell that day (I got past it, but fell on the next obstacle…the dreaded Spider Wall!).  But for American Ninja Warrior 4 this year I just scooted right down the middle without much hesitation.

JUMP-HANG – I was more than a little wary of the Jump Hang.  It gets a number of competitors to fall, and sometimes quite spectacularly.  Even top competitors will occasionally miss it.  But I feel pretty good on the mini-tramp and just cleared my mind, focused, and hammered that mini-tramp for a pretty good jump up to the 2nd highest strand of rope.  I got caught up a bit going over the top and I remember thinking “Are you going to get stuck here?  That would be embarrassing…” but I got over in a few seconds with a bit of ungainly thrashing.

CURTAIN SLIDE – I was quite worried about this obstacle.  It was new to the American Ninja Warrior competition and I think I was the second person in ANW history to ever try it out.  I figured the keys to the technique were getting a lot of momentum jumping off the platform onto the first curtain to get it to really slide, and then transition to the 2nd curtain, which was fixed (not sliding), with the very first swing.  I did exactly that and when I transitioned to the 2nd curtain I heard the crowd gasp and I thought “Am I about to fall here and I don’t even know it?” and then hiked my legs up and around the bottom of the curtain.  I made a quick transition to the 3rd curtain and then the platform after that.  Now that I have seen my run on TV, I know why the crowd gasped!  I was pretty close to touching the side of the obstacle with my feet as I was swinging around which would have disqualified me, and then after that I almost touched the water.  Yikes!  Definitely got a cue from the crowd noise there.

WARPED WALL – Prior to that day I had only practiced on a Warped Wall once in my life a couple of years ago.  It had been a smaller wall but I had gotten up it maybe 2 out of 3 tries, even when tired.  But this was a bigger wall, I was gassed from the previous 5 obstacles, and the springs in my legs that I used to use for high-jumping and dunking are a shadow of their former selves 😉  No excuses…I should have gotten up that wall, and I know I can get up that wall.  Just that day I missed.  Watching it on TV I realized that my first two attempts went badly because I was anticipating the curve of the wall before I got there…you can see me almost step up in an awkward step right as I get to the curve.  My final attempt was my closest, I actually got on fingertip over the top, but I was too out of gas by then.  So close, yet so far!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed that in my head.

Since I was the 5th runner of the day, I spent the whole day in the qualifier pit with 30 chairs for the 30 people who would advance to the regional finals.  I was SURE I would get bumped out at some point, but was just happy to have run and to have done as relatively well as I had.  Plus, it was super-fun to hang out all day in the qualifier pit with some other cool ninjas like David Gabel, Steven Volko, and Cade Halada among others.  Then, suddenly, the day was over, and I was sitting in the 29th seat, meaning I was going to advance.  I was only one seat from the “hot seat” as the guy about to be bumped, and I was already scripting my farewell speech in my head for the camera when they told us the day was done and we were the Midwest regional finalists!  Pretty dope!  Even doper…I was the oldest competitor to make it to the regional finals, which is some mad street cred among my middle-aged peer group 😉

Thanks to everybody for their support, and I hope you tune in for the regional finals and have a blast!