Ninja Killer: A Wingnut in the Rolling Thunder

As soon as Kristine Leahy mentioned Rolling Thunder was making its return, I knew what obstacle I would be talking about as this week's Ninja Killer. Last season, Rolling Thunder made its American Ninja Warrior debut in the Philadelphia City Qualifier where it had the second lowest completion percentage of any City Qualifying obstacle ever, 28.13% (9/32).

As expected, the Rolling Thunder had the lowest completion percentage, 56.25% (18/32) of all aired/annotated runs in the Daytona City Qualifier. Even though this was the lowest completion percentage of an obstacle in Daytona it was exactly double the completion percentage we saw on Rolling Thunder last season.


[Bootie Cothran made great progress on Rolling Thunder, despite having to repeatedly move the wheel that likely weighed more than him!]

From everything I can tell the Rolling Thunder in Daytona City Qualifier was exactly the same as the Rolling Thunder the Philadelphia City Finals - but not the Philadelphia City Qualifier. This is an important distinction, and a likely as large part as to why Rolling Thunder was completed by twice as many ninjas in the Daytona City Qualifier. You see, last season 3 City Qualifying obstacles were slightly modified to make the first six obstacles of the city finals "harder". I use quotes because that's what Matt and Akbar said, but for the Rolling Thunder the modification was clearly to make the obstacle easier.


[Anthony DeFranco demonstrates the huge 3 foot move that ninjas were forced to make in the Philadelphia City Qualifier last season, compare that the 1.5 foot move in the Philadelphia City Finals and Daytona City Qualifier in the image of Bootie Cothran above.]

In the Philadelphia City Qualifier, Rolling Thunder had 2 of its 8 spokes completely filled with Plexiglas, requiring ninjas to essentially skip an entire spoke of the 24 foot wheel. Or said differently, they had to make a 3 foot move using only their arms from the the underside of 100+lb obstacle. The Philadelphia City Finals and the Daytona City Qualifying version of Rolling Thunder had 3 spokes half blocked by Plexiglas. This meant ninjas would have to make more large moves, but now the large moves were only 1.5 feet instead of 3 feet. Even the modified version of Rolling Thunder is super tough, in the Philadelphia City Finals (where it faced a stronger city finals field instead of a city qualifying field) it had a completion percentage of 73.91% (17/23).

Before I end I want to point out that if we use the complete results from Nikki Lee's What you didn't see piece, a different obstacle was actually this week's Ninja Killer. When look at all the runs, the Wingnuts eliminated both the most ninjas, 40, and had the lowest completion percentage, 49.37% (39/79). Below is a complete breakdown of the obstacles and their eliminations and completion percentages for all 115 competitors:

  • Floating Steps: 11 eliminations (90.43% completion)
  • Rolling Pin: 25 eliminations (75.96% completion)
  • Wingnuts: 40 eliminations (49.37% completion)
  • Broken Bridge: 6 eliminations (84.62% completion)
  • Rolling Thunder: 15 eliminations (54.55% completion)
  • Warped Wall: 0 eliminations (100% completion)

Kevin Carbone had the unique honor of competing on, and completing his own fan created obstacle. However, this tricky obstacle was a Ninja Killer. According to aired/annotated run data, last season, Rolling Thunder was the only City Qualifying obstacle to have less then 50% completion percentage. Also so far this season, using Nikki's complete data the obstacle with the previous lowest completion percentage was Pipe Fitter with a percentage of 53.33%. As of right now, the Wingnuts have the lowest completion percentage of any obstacle in Season 9.

The Wingnuts are difficult because they require a lateral lache. Laches are common place in American Ninja Warrior, but lateral laches are not. Previously, any lateral movement such as the Cliffhanger, Monkey Pegs, or Ring Toss has been able to be completed using "static movements". Static movements are where the athlete reaches out to the next move while still having a grip on the previous hold. These laches are "dynamic moves", which have the ninjas releasing with both hands before grabbing the next hold. Dynamic moves like these side laches require much more body control and awareness than static moves, increasing their difficulty.


[Oscar Ramirez mid flight as he attempts to make the lateral lache from the second to the third "Wingnut".]

Another interesting difference between the lateral moves on the Wingnuts than any previous lateral moves on American Ninja Warrior are the direction the athletes are going. Previously all lateral movements have gone from left to right, so ninjas were leading with their right hand. On the Wingnuts however, ninjas were going from right to left, leading with their left hand. A minor difference sure, but from talking to competitors who faced the Wingnuts it did make things a little more difficult. For a breakdown on how to warm up for an obstacle like the Wingnuts, check out Alex Weber Crashing the Course with Jake Murray.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of American Ninja Warrior Nation's writers or editors, or of NBC.

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