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Philadelphia City Finals: The Ninjas showed up ready for a fight

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Their indomitable spirits clashed with a brutal extended course.

Bill McCay/NBC

The American Ninja Warrior City Finals in Philadelphia lived up to the city’s reputation. The runs were gritty, painstaking, and there were no signs of giving up. The extended course looked to be one of the most brutal we’ve seen this season. From Rocky Balboa to the Super Bowl-winning Eagles, and now, its Ninjas, Philly doesn’t shy away from a fight. In the Qualifiers, 3 of the 12 finishers were women. Now they, along with 29 other Ninjas, were looking for the City Finals buzzer.

By the numbers

  • Course completions: 3
  • Ninjas taken out by the new obstacle, Captain’s Wheel: 6
  • Ninjas taken out by the returning obstacle, Lightning Bolts: 9

The course:

  • Archer Steps (replaced Floating Steps)
  • Spinning Bowties
  • Broken Bridge
  • Wingnuts
  • Lightning Bolts
  • Warped Wall
  • Salmon Ladder
  • Captain’s Wheel (Ninjas must rotate two large wheels before dismounting)
  • Spinball Wizard
  • Spider Trap

Quick Highlights:

  • We were thrilled to see Michelle Warnky start off the night. This is her sixth year competing on Ninja Warrior and she’s inspired so many other women to train for the show. She completed the Qualifying course and had a solid repeat of that performance on the front part of the course. After the Salmon Ladder, she was the first to show us the new Captain’s Wheel. This looked like it was going to be a draining obstacle. Before transferring to the second wheel, Michelle shook out her arms and hands. She grabbed the second set of spokes, but we could see her arms straightening out. She slipped off the obstacle, but still gave us a great run and a great start to the show.
  • 19-year-old Christian DeRubeis fell on the Wingnuts.
  • Cara Poalillo, the creator of the Ninja Babes podcast, ending up falling on the Archer Steps.
  • Ryan Lee, known as the Nap Time Ninja, went out on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Darion Bennett is a new dad who has three jobs to support his family. He’s a Ninja coach, server, and a mold inspector. On the course, he had a little trouble on the Archer Steps, but tumbled into the water on the Wingnuts.
  • Zach Day, at 19-years-old, is technically the youngest competitor of this season (even younger than “The Kid” Mathis Owhadi.) His journey to Ninja Warrior is heart-breaking. He’s been focusing on Ninja training since he was 15 and frequently took on local competitions with his dad’s support. A few months ago, Zach lost his dad to a heart attack. The day of his father’s funeral, he got the call that he’d been selected for American Ninja Warrior. As he stepped up to the course, the Ninjas flooded the sidelines to support this emotional run.

He moved quickly on the course, making it past the Lightning Bolts that got him in Qualifying. Zach completed his first Warped Wall and honed in on the back half. He also took his time to figure out the Captain’s Wheel, dangling one arm at a time to rest. He managed to land the transfer between wheels, but slipped down the spokes into the water. In the end though, he was on his way to Las Vegas.

  • Shawn Johnson’s run ended at the Wingnuts.
  • James Bartholomew made it to the Lightning Bolts.
  • Andrew Sherk, a 2018 Olympic competitor in luge, also fell at the Lightning Bolts.
  • Dave Cavanagh is the “king of the walk on line.” Since season six, he’s spent 77 days in the walk on line. In season nine, he made it all the way to Stage Two of the National Finals. Back for season 10, he was ready to prove himself once again. We joined him on the course at the Lightning Bolts, which he defeated. You could see “Don’t over grip” written on his arm, a reminder to not exhaust himself too early. And he didn’t. Dave looked casual on the course. The Captain’s Wheel was proving to be a swamp of an obstacle. Dave remembered his own advice and carefully doled out his energy. This allowed him to become the first Ninja we saw beat the obstacle. On the Spinball Wizard, he still looked calm and thoughtful. If he was feeling the exertion, we couldn’t tell. So we were a bit surprised to see him fall towards the end of the obstacle. That still would leave him in a top spot for the night.
  • Paul Ruggeri III is a high-level gymnast. He went out on the Wingnuts.
  • Chris Fantauzzo fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Angel Rodriguez ended his run on the Captain’s Wheel.
  • We joined veteran James McGrath at the Warped Wall. He had no intention of missing out on the National Finals this season. His massive wingspan was incredibly helpful on the Captain’s Wheel. James was able to reach across the obstacle instead of needing every single peg. This got him through the Captain’s Wheel quickly, and with energy to spare. Off to the Spinball Wizard, he dismounted without using the last set of handles.

Things got intense on the Spider Trap. From the start, it looked like James was struggling to fit his frame into the chute. He slipped around, but still pushed upward. When he tried to move one set of doors, his hands slipped, the doors crashed back down, with Jame’s fingers in the middle. Watching this live, we thought he’d crushed his hand. Upon closer inspection, the doors had a gap between them that kept James safe. But after that potential distraction, James was out of gas and would not reach the buzzer. (But Vegas was still in his future!)

  • McKinley Pierce is a caretaker to her mother, who was severely burned in a terrifying house fire in 2016. Mom was on the sidelines as McKinley, worked her way down the course. The Wingnuts knocked her out in Qualifying, and, while it wasn’t the cleanest run, she was able to best the obstacle this time. Unfortunately, a bad bounce on the trampoline to the Lightning Bolts ended her run one obstacle later.
  • Chad Riddle had a strong and emotional course completion in Qualifying. This time around, his night ended at the Lightning Bolts.
  • Matt Strollo was out on the Salmon Ladder.
  • Jamie Rahn has had a big year. He got married and moved to Colorado to work with Ninja Nation. All that commotion doesn’t seem to have altered his training, as he was still as strong as ever on the course. He took a huge dismount off the Lightning Bolts and pushed on to the back half. Jamie picked his way easily through the Captain’s Wheel and bopped along across the Spinball Wizard. He fitted himself comfortably into the Spider Trap and leaped to the top. Jamie snagged the first buzzer of the night.
  • Judas Licciardello’s run was shown picture-in-picture during a commercial break. He had a fall on the Broken Bridge, but also enjoyed a great save. On the back half, he battled with the Captain’s Wheel and became one of the few competitors that succeeded there. He went out early on the Spinball Wizard.
  • Gavin Ross is known as the Paddle Ninja as he’s a sprint canoe-ist who almost made the 2016 Olympics. Gavin failed the Lightning Bolts in Qualifying and made sure to learn from his mistakes. He made it back to the obstacle and got through it. On the back half, his grip was sliding on the Captain’s Wheel and he was out on the first part of the obstacle.
  • Casey Rothschild was a breakout smash in Qualifiers. She became the youngest woman ever (20) to complete a Qualifying course. Which is why we were so shocked when she stumbled backwards into the water on the Archer Steps. But this is just Casey’s rookie season. We have a feeling she has a promising Ninja career ahead.
  • Lucas Reale is another 19-year-old Ninja. He got a little hung up on the Lightning Bolts and managed to work it out. He reached the Captain’s Wheel, but fell into the water as he barely started the obstacle.
  • Logan Kreglow shredded his knee in his senior year of high school. It was to the point that he almost lost his leg. But through dedication to rehab and focusing on never giving up, Logan was breaking his personal track and field records by the senior year of college. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same way on the course. He fell at the Lightning Bolts in Qualifying, and it happened once again in the City Finals.
  • Brian Pease and Tyler Waters also both fell on the Lightning Bolts.
  • Chris Wilczewski is back with a purpose this season. As he shared in the Qualifiers, he almost died in Lake Michigan after struggling in turbulent waves for 30 minutes. The resulting stress and PTSD moved Chris to pull out of season nine. But his return was legendary. He not only took the course apart, he defeated the Mega Wall for $10k.

Nothing about his unshakable focus was different for the City Finals. He moved right through the front part of the course like it was nothing. He had so much energy to spare on the Captain’s Wheel, that he was leaping between spokes, instead of reaching out for each one. After he completed that obstacle, it was more than clear he could get the fastest time of the night. Spinball Wizard was a blur and then he was suddenly on the Spider Trap. Chris was stalking between obstacles, not waiting to rest. He smashed the buzzer well over a minute faster than Jamie Rahn’s time.

  • Cody Coppola fell on the Wingnuts.
  • Veteran competitor Mike Bernardo also fell victim to the Wingnuts.
  • In Allyssa Beird’s three seasons on the show, she’s inspired a whole new generation of Ninjas. As one of only two women to beat Stage One of the National Finals, she was well-positioned to clear the City Finals course. Allyssa worked methodically on the front half of the course, leaving nothing to chance. By the time she cleared the Warped Wall, she was guaranteed a spot in Las Vegas once again. There was a brief, odd bounce on the trampoline to the Salmon Ladder, and thank goodness, that’s all it was. Allyssa worked hard on the Captain’s Wheel. She made the transfer to the second wheel, but her grip wasn’t with her, ending her run there. However, that performance still put her in the top 15 of the night.
  • Philly-native Najee Richardson closed out the night. He also had a spectacular start to his season, finishing the Qualifying course and including the Mega Wall in that. He paced back and forth at the start line to the City Finals course, anxious to let loose.

Najee’s leaps off the Spinning Bowties were absolutely massive. He landed beyond the safety mats for the obstacle. He needed a little correction on the Lightning Bolts but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle. After the Mega Wall, the regular Warped Wall was a walk in the park. Najee likes to use the backwards technique on the Salmon Ladder and, hey, it works for him. On the Captain’s Wheel, he thoughtfully worked through it. At the Spinball Wizard, he actually kicked the last set of handles out of the way and dismounted without them. Suddenly Najee looked exhausted on the Spider Trap, like the whole run had just hit him. However, he dug deep and lunged for the finish. This would be Najee’s first City Finals buzzer.

  • There were three finishers overall.
  • Both Michelle Warnky and Allyssa Beird made the top 15.

Find a full list of who moved on to the National Finals here.

Heart-Pounding Moment:

We’re starting to think Chris Wilczewski has returned to the show with super powers. This is Chris’ ninth season on the show. He’s always been good, but it’s pretty undeniable that this year is different for him. It’s like watching a man possessed out there. You get the feeling 10 obstacles isn’t enough. He’s hungry for more. He’s hungry for whatever comes next and we feel like Stage One of the National Finals better get ready.

Heart-Breaking Moment:

First, let’s just say that we’re VERY happy James McGrath is moving on to the finals and there’s a reason he ranked fourth overall for the night. However, his time on the Spider Trap was terrifying to watch. Literally. We watched it from between our fingers. It’s so hard to watch a competitor get that close to the finish and be denied their buzzer. Add in to that the moment the doors closed on his hand. For a split second, his heart must had slammed as hard as ours did watching it. Thank goodness for that gap. But, no, that was not fun to watch.

Shout out of the night:

Keep your chin up, Casey Rothschild! In just her first season, she’s experienced the drastic highs and lows this show can offer. After the Qualifiers, the Internet was buzzing with her name. She was breathing rarefied air at the top of that Warped Wall. Considering she’s a rookie, and one of the youngest female competitors, the energy behind her was pushing for a Cinderella story. In the City Finals, a small error on the rope of the Archer Steps sent her into the water. Obviously, not the ideal outcome for anyone watching. But your rookie year is for learning and we really feel like Casey is poised to grow exponentially from season 10.

Next week:

How in the WORLD is it already time for the last City Finals? On August 20, American Ninja Warrior roles back into Minneapolis to collect the last of our National Finalists.