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:
- Paul Kasemir – Clear
- Josh Cook – Clear
- Brian Arnold – Clear
- Isaac Caldiero – Clear
- Colby Frontiero – Clear
- Casey Finley – Failed Pole Grasper
- Tremayne Dortch – Failed Pole Grasper
- Kyle Sinacori – Failed Pole Grasper
- Andres De La Rosa – Failed Pole Grasper
- Chris Romrell – Failed Floating Stairs
- Lorin Ball – Failed Floating Stairs
- Jake Smith – Failed Floating Stairs
- Caleb Garnham – Failed Floating Stairs
- Camilo Brokaw – Failed Floating Stairs
- Josh Grant – Failed Floating Stairs