This article was published prior to Drew Drechsel’s arrest. NBC and American Ninja Warrior have since cut ties with him.
American Ninja Warrior returned to Miami for the City Finals and gave us runs that were sometimes thrilling and sometimes shockingly baffling. High-profile contestants like Drew Drechsel and Jessie Graff looked towards the buzzer. Ryan Stratis and Brett Sims had a friendly bet on the line. Kenny Niemitalo was driven by a desire to help others the way his family had been helped.
But, there was a roadblock very early on the course. It was apparent that a lot of the Ninjas never saw it coming.
By the numbers
- Course completions: 3
- Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Crazy Clocks : 8
- Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Cannonball Drop: 10 (What?!?)
- Archer Steps (replaced Floating Steps)
- Cannonball Drop (replaced Fly Wheels)
- Razor’s Edge
- Ring Turn
- Slippery Summit (now has more cleats than in Qualifiers)
- Warped Wall
- Salmon Ladder
- Crazy Clocks (new obstacle, Ninjas have to “move the handles from 6 to noon” as Matt Iseman described it)
- Stair Hopper
- Spider Trap
- Michael Johnson’s aunt and grandmother watched his run on FaceTime from Brooklyn. The return competitor was through the Cannonball Drop and almost slid right off the mats after the Razor’s Edge. He had a great strategy on the Ring Turn that put him back at the Slippery Summit that took him out in Qualifying. He moved through it with an early dismount and sprinted over the Warped Wall. He was the first to show us the tricky new Crazy Clocks. He fell as he jumped to the middle portion.
- Lindsay Eskildsen fell on the Cannonball Drop.
- Ethan Surprenant fell on the Slippery Summit for the second time.
- Calle Alexander was out on the Salmon Ladder.
- Drew Hendry and his wife Heather welcomed their baby daughter Violet just the day after he ran the Kansas City Finals in season nine. Heather’s contractions started on the plane back from the competition, seven weeks early. One of the few things they had with them was their ANW blanket. Happy and healthy, Heather and Violet watched Drew from the sidelines in Miami.
Drew was able to correct the uneven bar on the Slippery Summit, moving to the back half of the course. He looked a bit stretched out on the Salmon Ladder and soon hit the water from the Crazy Clocks.
- Jessica Clayton’s Qualifying run took her all the way to the Slippery Summit. During the City Finals, Jessica didn’t let go when the Cannonball Drop reached the end of the track. The momentum pulled her backwards and away from the landing pad. She dangled in the air while trying to find a way out of the predicament. She managed to graze the pad with one foot and was SO close to escaping, but she did end up in the water.
- R.J. Roman plays bass in a touring Metal band when he’s not training for Ninja Warrior. He was safe through the Cannonball Drop and took a running leap off the Razor’s Edge. Although the bar on Slippery Summit was uneven, R.J. didn’t worry about it and went for the early dismount. Like Michael Johnson, it was the transfer to the middle portion of the Crazy Clocks that ended his run.
- Jason Bergstrom became another victim of Cannonball Drop.
- Five-time veteran Todd Bourgeois made it to the Crazy Clocks.
- Firefighter Eddy Stewart is well-known for his “left, right, double, double” pec flex. He made it off Cannonball Drop, but as he started to fall backwards, he jumped on to the side pad of the obstacle, which disqualified him although he was dry.
- Devin Harrelson, also known as Dougie, is a fun-loving Ninja with a flashy sense of style. But recently, he lost his best friend Chris Smith in a car accident and has been struggling with the loss. This run was for Chris, and his widow, Jessica, watched on FaceTime. Which made it all the more upsetting to see Devin become the fifth casualty of Cannonball Drop.
- Ryan Stratis is celebrating his tenth season on the show with a lot of success. In the Qualifiers, he was took home the prize money from the Mega Wall. He’s in a bet with fellow Ninja Brett Sims. Whoever falls first has to shave their beard. So there was a lot on the line with this run. Ryan trotted over the Warped Wall to take on the back half of the course. He looked strong on the Crazy Clocks and became the first Ninja to get through. On the dangerous Stair Hopper, Ryan opted for a slow but steady strategy. He took the dismount as soon as he could and moved to the Spider Trap. He looked completely calm as he reached the buzzer. Your move, Brett...
- Greg Manders, Jordan Brown, and Eli Bell ALL went out on the Cannonball Drop, bringing the total to eight.
- Neil “Crazy” Craver is known for his fire-y training tactics, but this year he’s moved on to ice training. He was a little hung up on the Ring Turn, which had us worried he’d expended a good amount of energy there. Neil didn’t look to be in a rush on the obstacles. He did move to the Crazy Clocks but also fell while transferring to the middle.
- Veteran Casey Suchoki had his new wife and his grandpa Emmit on the sidelines. During a picture-in-picture run over a commercial break, we saw Casey move quickly through the first part of the course and fall on the Crazy Clocks.
- Kenny Niemitalo has had a pretty incredible story play out over his years on the show. After sharing that his daughter Hazel needed a kidney, a viewer stepped forward as a match and made the donation. Now Kenny wants to pay it forward and help others. He ran the two Miami courses wearing shirts featuring other kids that need a kidney.
There’s 13 year-old Liza, who loves sports and Animals. And 14-year-old Deelard who is techie and a bit of a comedian.
The last time Kenny competed in Miami was during season six, and it was the last time he hit the buzzer on a City Finals course. After Kenny made a huge dismount from the Slippery Summit, barely landing it on one leg, he was on his way. He looked tired as he started the Spider Trap climb, but nothing was going to stop him. He completed the course with the fastest time of the night and immediately rushed to hug wife Maria and Hazel.
- 19-year-old Nico Long also was not able to pass the Cannonball Drop.
- Emily Durham put up a strong run all the way to the Slippery Summit.
- If Brett Sims wanted to keep his beard, he had to put up a fantastic run. Apparently the threat of losing facial hair is all the motivation he needed. Brett completed the course and his time was even faster than Ryan’s. Brett took the second place over all for the night. Both he and Ryan were off to the National Finals with their luxurious bristles intact.
- Rachael Goldstein is a member of the Fantastic Four women who all qualified for the City Finals in Philadelphia during season 8. On the course in Miami, she curled her body in tight on the Cannonball Drop to make sure she got through. She went out on the Slippery Summit in the Qualifiers. This time, she knew just how to beat the obstacle. That guaranteed her place in Las Vegas, but Rachael wasn’t done yet. It took her three attempts to get over the Warped Wall and then the back half of the course laid before her. Rachael took down the Salmon Ladder, but was clearly struggling on the Crazy Clocks. Her impressive run ended there, leaving her in the top 15.
- Scott Reuter had a painful looking fall off Razor’s Edge.
- It was shocking to see Wingnuts creator Kevin Carbone fail at the Cannonball Drop. He fell backwards off the landing pad after taking on the obstacle with his eyes closed.
- Bootie Cothran had a run to remember in the Qualifiers, making it to the buzzer. He had another reason to celebrate after his City Finals run. His time to the Crazy Clocks, where he did fall, put him through the National Finals for the first time. He was overjoyed when Kristine Leahy broke the good news to him.
- Morgan “Moose” Wright had his big personality intact, but his run fell apart on the Ring Turn.
- Doug Legg was out on the Slippery Summit.
- We had to hold our breath when Drew Drechsel stepped up to the course. Once he was past the Cannonball Drop, we felt a little bit better. It looked like he wanted the fastest time of the night. Being strategic on the Ring Turn allowed him to slip right through it. On the back half, he moved the first set of Crazy Clock handles in one smooth move. He almost did the same with the second set. Drew was edging his way down the Stair Hopper when he suddenly slipped into the water. He looked as shocked as us when he came up. But that still puts him back into the National Finals.
- We closed the night with the highly-anticipated Jessie Graff. She wanted to complete this City Finals course. We screamed a little when she barely made the landing from Cannonball Drop. Seriously, what is up with that obstacle? Jessie had no interest in rushing herself through the course. She paused and visualized each move in front of the obstacles. Once she passed the Slippery Summit, she was through to Vegas. She still had work to do on the back half of the course. The Salmon Ladder was easily handled. On the Crazy Clocks, she swung the handles around in one smooth motion. She was able to pull off the same move on the last clock and was the first woman to beat the obstacle. But on the Stair Hopper, it was a repeat of Drew’s run. She fell into the water while working her way down. Still a run to remember, leaving her in the fifth position overall for the night.
- There were only three finishers, the fewest so far this season.
- Both Rachael Goldstein and Jessie Graff ranked in the top 15 overall.
We’ve followed Kenny Niemitalo’s story as its unfolded. It’s an example of an elite Ninja performing the difficult balancing act of maintaining their skills while life comes at them full-force. He even trained while in the hospital with Hazel. To see him and his family take this opportunity to pay forward the generosity they experienced, while having a burst of success on the course just felt well-deserved.
What the heck, Cannonball Drop? Our stomachs dropped with each and every Ninja who fell there. Going out on only the second obstacle on a City Finals course is not ideal for any competitor. It wasn’t even a new obstacle. It appeared in Los Angeles during season nine. It just goes to show us all that even the most basic looking obstacle can be a sneaky, unpredictable challenge.
Shout out of the night:
Drew and Jessie shrugging off any disappointment they might have felt was classic Ninja Warrior. Both had their hopes set on buzzers. So did the fans. But, it didn’t happen. Both of them quickly shook it off, celebrated how far they did go, and started planning for the next course. Their adaptability, on the obstacles and in life, is part of what makes them such strong athletes.
The next edition of the City Finals will be coming to us from Indianapolis on August 6. The returning champion Isaac Caldiero will see if he can continue his quest to face Mount Midoriyama one more time.