Ninja History
August 22, 2019 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Only one woman had completed the American Ninja Warrior City Finals course in the history of the show, and that was Kacy Catanzaro in 2014.

This week at the Cincinnati City Finals two women completed the course. Michelle Warnky did it first, becoming the first woman in 5 years and only 2nd woman overall to complete a city finals course. Then Jesse Labreck did it a few minutes later.

Watch the historic runs to see three woman just kicking ass in a very difficult physical challenge, and also watch (especially Michelle's run) to hear the announcers losing their freaking minds.
posted by COD (55 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's great that the final obstacle is a glass ceiling.
posted by LarsC at 11:58 AM on August 22, 2019 [62 favorites]


75% of the joy of this show for me is watching women do things they didn't think they could do. The other 25% is watching those announcers lose their freaking minds over everything. They're adorable dorks.

(It's worth noting, I think, that in a previous City Finals this year, the person to get furthest on the course was Jessie Graff, probably the top woman in the sport, although she came in third overall for time reasons. No one finished that course.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


wow so that course seems like 90% upper body strength? so even more impressive to see women achieving that. Michelle Warnky is 5'4" 135lb. that is an incredible amount of strength and stamina in a fairly small package. (hello, paging Simone Biles) I couldn't have gotten through one section of this in my peak.

incredible!
posted by supermedusa at 12:11 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


and yeah the announcers are adorkable!!
posted by supermedusa at 12:12 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I @%#@ LOVE NINJA WARRIOR SO MUCH

these people are amazing amazing amazing
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am THRILLED that Michelle and Flex Labreck got through it!! Flex is Herr Duck's favorite competitor, I won't tell him that she got through it...I'll just show him the video when I get home :^). I wish that Alyssa Bierd had been able to get through it - she and Najee Richardson are my favorites.

This is the one TV show that I tune in for every week. I love anything to do with obstacle courses and I totally dig the friendly competitive atmosphere. And I think that Matt and Akbar are a hoot.
posted by Gray Duck at 12:23 PM on August 22, 2019


I really wish you hadn't made a post about spoilers from that episode - it's only a couple days old, and a lot of us haven't yet watched it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:26 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was also super into Philip Scott, the young guy with major anxiety and Asperger's, who overcame a panic attack only an hour before competing. (Tried to find a video clip of his segment but I don't see it on YouTube.)
posted by dnash at 12:29 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've not yet watched the clips, I bet they're amazing but I don't have time just at the moment, but I needed to share something I saw the other day from Australian Ninja Warrior 2018 before I run off to be productive. You have to check Olivia Vivian's performance here out.
posted by Caduceus at 12:39 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


TBH, Vivian's flip technique makes more sense to me than the usual pullup style. Why not use your whole body?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:48 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


How come on the "slingshot" the hold the bar overhand with one hand and underhand with the other?
posted by rebent at 12:55 PM on August 22, 2019


[Moved the spoilers below the fold. COD, drop us a line if you'd prefer a different aesthetic but we would prefer not to spoil people if it bums them out. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:59 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


How come on the "slingshot" the hold the bar overhand with one hand and underhand with the other?

It's a more secure grip - your hands are pushing towards one another, rather than both towards the same weak point. It's always interesting to see who and on which obstacles people go for the switch grip.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2019


The best part of ANW is how supportive the competitors seem to be of each other.
At least one of the women on the sidelines was cheering for the person who was about to eliminate her.
When watching with kids, I really appreciate that they don't focus on a bunch of inter-competitor drama like so many reality shows.

Also, it's apparently been quite a while since I've watched, they've invented a whole bunch of new obstacles.
What's with the 2 sizes of warped wall?
posted by madajb at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


In the qualifiers, people could attempt the big one for a cash prize. $10k if they got up on the first try, half that for the next, and half again on the third. They've also added the "Power Tower" on both City courses for really interesting prizes - the "Speed Pass" (automatic entry to Vegas) on the qualifiers, and (even more strategically interesting) a do-over on Stage 1 or Stage 2 as the big City prize. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the latter play out.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2019


The shorter warped wall is the "normal" one, the big one is 18" tall. You get three shots to get up it: if you make it the 1st try, you get $10,000. 2nd try is $5,000, 3rd try is $2,500.
posted by Gray Duck at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2019


The shorter warped wall is the "normal" one, the big one is 18" tall.

Truly the Spinal Tap of obstacle courses.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:12 PM on August 22, 2019 [41 favorites]


This is amazing. The courses disadvantage women who have less reach than the men. I love seeing them beat the mens course, but I would also love to see a women specific course built that really showcase their skills.
posted by CostcoCultist at 1:30 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Are these videos geo-locked? Usually when I can't see something because I'm in Canada, I get the message that they aren't available in my country, but today I'm getting that they aren't available at all. Obviously the rest of you are watching them, so any ideas what's up?

I love me some women doing Ninja Warrior and I want to see!
posted by jacquilynne at 1:32 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also from Canada, also can't see it. =(
posted by Imperfect at 1:39 PM on August 22, 2019


I found these videos that work for me in Canada!
posted by jacquilynne at 1:40 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I only watched the "Flex" Labreck run, but damn did she make that ridiculously difficult course look easy.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:12 PM on August 22, 2019


It's fascinating to watch these three womens' runs in sequence. They're such a contrast in size, approach, and attitude.

Looking back at Kacy's 2014 runs, I remember being so blown away by just how *differently* she had to approach some of the obstacles, because her height and body mass were so much lower than the courses had obviously been designed around. It was deeply satisfying to watch her dominate those courses.

I have to admit, I never find the male competitors on ANW nearly as satisfying to watch, partially because it's so clear that the challenges have been designed *for* them.
posted by bluemilker at 2:44 PM on August 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


I like some of the really top athletes, because they hit a degree of body control that's just a pleasure to watch, but yeah, the women are almost always more interesting. The problem-solving aspects of the courses are more fun than the pure grip-strength challenges or whatever. (And I always appreciate that the balance obstacles are the great equalizer. Everyone falls on them eventually.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:46 PM on August 22, 2019


Obstacle Design Contest

Anyone with kinesiology background have ideas on what could make an obstacle of equal difficulty to women and men? The balance obstacles are prime example, I think.
posted by bastionofsanity at 2:58 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've told this story a couple times but when we first keyed in to this show a few years ago, we'd watch it on YouTube with our daughter and we had a backlog of women's competition to get through so we just went through those over a course of a few weeks as our "family tv time." After a month or so, our daughter turns and says, "Hey, do you think boys ever do this competition?" I asked my husband, "Gee...I don't know...do you suppose that boys would ever be in to this kind of thing?" He says, "Hm...well, they'd have to be very brave to try it." As luck would have it, some boys have tried this competition! We watched some and ooh-ed an aah-ed over their skills and bravery.

You really, really, really have to hand it to the announcers. There are so many moments where I brace myself for a dumb comment from them or something that slights women or comments on their looks or any other endless microaggressions (sexist or racist) that plague standard entertainment and it just never comes. I feel like they had to have had training and made that explicit somehow in how the show is handled. I really appreciate it, to put it lightly.
posted by amanda at 3:01 PM on August 22, 2019 [38 favorites]


I wish I could remember the obstacle, but at one point in an older competition I remember thinking "hey, being shorter is actually an advantage here". It's be cool if the did more of those.
posted by tavella at 3:07 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


My consistent reaction to this show is “I should really cut back on my pizza and martinis and get more exercise.”

And I reeeaally love pizza and martinis.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:32 PM on August 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


The show's a big hit in our house too. The one part that grates on me a little is how often we find out that a competitor has left their job to "train full time" or "open a ninja gym". It's like, is this their job now? Is being an obstacle course competitor their vocation?

Or is it like improv comedy, where you can't make money doing it, you can only make money by training other people to do it?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 3:39 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed the announcer at some point just chanting "woman power woman power"

Honestly, I get that excited about powerful women too, bro.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 3:47 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Wow those were amazing. I’ve never seen this show and it looks like I’ve been missing out. Are the announcers and fans always that positive and excited? I need more of that in my life.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 4:18 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I miss the original, Japanese Ninja Warrior on G4. The exciteable announcer had his own endearing quirks (he said something that sounded like "SA DODA!" a lot, whatever the heck that meant) and you got really invested in these poor people who'd do stuff like build the course in their own backyards so they could practice all year long. There was one guy who worked at a gas station, and he always competed wearing his uniform. (He was no novelty competitor, either. That guy could JUMP.) Some of the women in the Japanese competition were real tanks. The announcer would sometimes note that when they weren't competing some of them were starring in something called The Muscle Musical. What the hell was The Muscle Musical??

By comparison the American version always seemed really slick and, well, Americanized. It doesn't suck or anything, but it's kind of like when a weird little indie comic book you like gets adapted into some blockbuster action movie with lots of explosions. Just... no thanks.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:24 PM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


I have never watched this show, so the whole thing is a revelation.

as mentioned, the enthusiasm and positiveness of the announcers (no sexist or patronizing comments or tone, ever!!!) and the competitors being so supportive of each other. its really nice!!!!

but my only real 'point of reference' for this sort of show is Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, so its sort of funny to watch the serious version.
posted by supermedusa at 4:34 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I keep breaking down crying trying to watch these and having to pause.
posted by Caduceus at 4:55 PM on August 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


Part of that might just be me and my own stuff right now, though, I dunno.
posted by Caduceus at 4:59 PM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


All I have to add is that I went to grade school with Jessie Graff and she was completely awesome then too. We were never more than acquaintances but every interaction I ever had with her was positive. It is super cool to see all the awesome things she has gone on to do. Ninja Warrior is one of the more wholesome things out there, too, and I am happy they exist. On a hometown-pride note I am bummed that she didn’t finish it first, but the whole thing is just so cool that I’m not even mad.
posted by Alterscape at 5:02 PM on August 22, 2019 [14 favorites]


Wow those were amazing. I’ve never seen this show and it looks like I’ve been missing out. Are the announcers and fans always that positive and excited? I need more of that in my life.

They are that excited and positive 1000% of the time. It is my favourite thing about the show. Everyone involved is full of unbridled love and delight for everyone else. The whole aesthetic is man against mountain and everyone is on the side of whichever man or woman is facing off against the mountain at the moment.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 PM on August 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


boys wanna be her, girls wanna be her!
posted by pangolin party at 5:17 PM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


I wanna be her! Yes I do.
posted by pangolin party at 5:20 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is great. How is the show that old already?

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Rapper Warrior Ninja.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


✔️Ninjas are mammals
❌Ninjas fight all the time
❌The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.

Sorry, doesn't scan.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:28 PM on August 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


I love how casual some of the best competitors manage to be at this. It reminds me of a video from a thread a couple years back about bouldering, where the climber in question (Jan Hojer) is lazily doing one-armed pullups up a campus board. Skipping holds of course, because you wouldn't want to be too lazy about it, and doing two-pinky planks from a fingerboard.
posted by ethand at 6:42 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, over at Australian Ninja, please enjoy golfer Charlie Robbins.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:14 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


For those interested, Jessie Graff competed in Sasuke in 2017 and made it to the third round. (For those who know the competitors, Drew Drechsel fell on the same obstacle). Videos of her run: stage 1, stage 2, stage 3.

I also think that the courses have become more demanding over that last few years as ninja gyms spring up and people practice on obstacles like the ones in the courses.
posted by Hactar at 8:17 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Japanese show is about how hard the course is and the American show is about how brave the contestants are.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:18 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Great post! Both women are tremendous athletes, but I felt particularly moved by Warnky's looks of joy and proud accomplishment after beating the obstacles.
posted by emd3737 at 8:49 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Man, I tell you what, I was a division competitor in gymnastics, and not even in my top form could I have done what these women just did. That was amazing.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:21 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Japanese show is about how hard the course is and the American show is about how brave the contestants are.

I think that's an oversimplification. The Japanese show didn't devote long, Olympics-style segments to the personal lives of the competitors or anything, but we definitely got to know them as they came back over and over. I was always rooting for the seemingly cursed Yamada Katsumi, a guy who started with all the promise in the world but somehow never quite made it. He was such a fanatic about winning that his life fell apart and he alienated his family, and every year he'd come back and every year he did a little worse. His nickname was the Terminator, and it was true in the sense that this maniac just wouldn't give up no matter how broken he was.

There were also novelty competitors (I remember one weedy artist guy who would start each run by unveiling one of his sculptures) and at least one trans competitor. There was a real spectrum of humanity in there, you never knew who would show up. It was a lot more quirky and less slick than the US version. Every year started off fun and goofy, but then got more and more tense as the competition went on.

When the US version started airing I worried that it'd eventually replace the original on US TV, and it sure did. I honestly don't give a crap about sporty stuff but the original Ninja Warrior was such great TV that even I couldn't resist it. SA DODA!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:03 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


In recent years, the Japanese version (SASUKE) has sort of gotten away from the novelty competitors who gave the earlier shows some charm.

Urusula Hitler, you are probably referring to them saying "tonda" which means that they've jumped or are flying. Usually before they hit the water.

SASUKE was originally a part of a regular TV show broadcast in Japan called Kinniku Banzuke that ended up outliving the original show. Thus the prize money is paltry compared to the US version because as far as I know, TBS never reset the original prize amounts. If you ever saw Unbeatable Banzuke on G4, think about this: Like a Pierrot, which was a competition about going through a course via a constant handstand, could net you the same amount as completing the whole SASUKE course.

The Muscle Musical was a stage show built around the SASUKE and Kinniku Banzuke regulars (the Bruce Lee guy, Hibari etc) who were not a) the SASUKE All-Stars and b) too colorful or talented to not do stuff with. Kind of like a low level Cirque Du Soleil but with BMX riders and lots and lots of former gymnasts. The show sort of died when some people split off from it and then was revived and died again, I think. Naoki Iketani, another notable SASUKE guy created his own offshoot that is still going called the Samurai Rock Orchestra.
posted by LostInUbe at 11:30 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


No, I'm pretty sure the guy was saying, "Sa... doda!" He said it often enough that it became kind of a catch-phrase in our house. I once asked a Japanese speaker what it might mean and he said it was hard to translate, a sort of vague phrase to direct your attention to something. I got the feeling it was something like "Now, then..." or "And, so..."
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:30 AM on August 23, 2019


I wish I could remember the obstacle, but at one point in an older competition I remember thinking "hey, being shorter is actually an advantage here". It's be cool if the did more of those.

In most of the obstacles, being shorter is an advantage because shorter means lighter, which means your arms have less load to bear, which given that arm strength is the #1 determinator of how well you can do on just about every course matters quite a bit. The general "ideal height" for a competitor is probably about 5'7" - at that point you're tall enough that the courses are essentially designed for you as the norm, but still going to be light enough that you can carry extra upper body muscle and not be disadvantaged by it. Most of the taller male competitors are beanpoles by necessity and their extra reach usually doesn't compensate for the other factors.
posted by mightygodking at 6:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Okay, but 5'7" isn't "shorter" for women.
posted by jeather at 7:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


There was a woman in I think Ninja Warrior 1 who moved through the first stage like it wasn't even there, with simply incredible grace, and then could not complete in round two because the first obstacle required the competitor to brace their arms and legs between parallel walls and sort of hop forward over a pit. Her limbs were too short to reach, and she was disqualified not for a lack of athleticism and will and spirit but because the course had been built in such a way as to make it literally impossible for her even to complete it. Still makes me mad when I think about it
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


The obstacle design rules are interesting, because they say it needs to work for people from 5' to 7' -- I know a LOT more women who are under 5' than men who are over 6'6". Between that and the focus on upper body strength specifically, it's super designed for men.

I pretty much only watch the women, who as noted above do this as puzzle solving and not just being very strong.
posted by jeather at 8:13 AM on August 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I pretty much only watch the women, who as noted above do this as puzzle solving and not just being very strong.

yeah I felt like I could see their brains working as hard as their bodies as they ran the courses, which is incredible!
posted by supermedusa at 8:53 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


« Older Smell is especially important when it comes to...   |   Python Action Team Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments