Spoiler alert! Results of the special are included below.
Team USA put on quite the show during the 2020 American Ninja Warrior USA vs The World competition. Together, the group of six Ninjas led in points across all three stages. Team Australia kept up a distant second, and Team Europe seemed to be stalled in third place.
Team USA’s captain and season 11 Champion, Drew Drechsel, led the all-star group. Jesse Labreck and Daniel Gil returned to the off-season competition. Joining the ranks for the first time were Michael Torres, Karsten Williams, and Adam Rayl. All were selected to represent USA after incredibly strong regular seasons.
Adam was honored even further when the team selected him to challenge Australia’s Bryson Klein on Stage Four, the 75-foot rope climb for the win. However, in a twist no one saw coming, Team USA walked away in second place after Bryson absolutely galloped up the final climb.
Of course, everyone wants to take home the trophy in a challenge like this, but the results don’t dull the shine on the stellar runs put together by Team USA. Adam Rayl took the time to fill us in on how the competition went from his perspective, and those frustrating final moments.
How did it feel to be selected for Team USA this year?
AR: I was overwhelmed, really… I always hoped that someday I’d be on the team, but man! When Matt (Iseman) called my name, I just couldn’t believe it! It was like a jolt of energy went through me that apparently I couldn’t contain because I shocked myself by launching into a series of back handsprings and flips!
What were your thoughts on Team Australia and Team Europe?
AR: The athletes on these teams are unbelievably accomplished. All of them really nice, but going up against all that talent was a bit intimidating.
Team USA dominated the scoreboard through the competition. How was the team feeling with all that momentum behind them?
AR: The excitement and energy of the fans was really powerful, but we were trying not to let it go to our heads so actually were not really paying that much attention to the tally. It was clear that each one of us, just like in regular season competition, was focused on what was in front of us - each obstacle completion, each stage, and tried not to get too far ahead of ourselves. The team camaraderie and support was awesome. So great to be a part of that.
Did you always plan on taking on the rope climb?
AR: Actually, no! After Stage One, I figured I was done - that for the rest of the competition, my role would be for support. After Stage Three, we all gathered to talk about Stage Four and there had been no decision prior, as far as I know, as to who’d be doing it. There’d been some minor bumps and strains for some teammates in the previous stages and Drew knew that. As team captain, it was his call to make.
He was the logical choice, but he had just run Stage Three. When people watch the show, I’m not sure they realize how quickly Stage Four followed Stage Three. When it came time to choose, Drew left it to Michael or myself. Ultimately I took the lead and knowing it was do or die, I, regardless of the massive fatigue I was experiencing, knew I’d die before I’d not give it 100%. I was shocked by the chance to climb the fabled, legendary Stage Four climb - Mount Midoriyama herself! But of course I didn’t want to pass up the chance to try. I had to give it everything I had.
How were you feeling as you stepped up to the tower?
AR: There is no other feeling like that one. None. The energy of the whole place was crazy! I was standing there as several people were fitting me with the vest, checking all attachments, securing the belay rope and checking again to make sure everything was functioning right… and I had some leg sheaths for rope training to protect my legs, and had put them on… So there I was, all suited up telling myself that, yes, this was really happening. And holding onto that rope, looking way up to the top of the tower. Well, I can tell you, from that position the top looks a whole lot further away.
The climb probably didn’t turn out exactly how you wanted. Can you tell us about that experience from your perspective?
AR: No, it sure didn’t. Would have felt so good to have gotten the points and the win for my team. The last thing I wanted was to let my team down, or everyone supporting me and Team USA, but I gave it all I had to give. There wasn’t anything left over. I wish I could say I was excited to hit the buzzer, but Bryson was already there. I’ve thought about that climb more times than I care to admit, and have tried to analyze it. It was the first time I’d gotten my hands on the Stage Four rope and it wasn’t anything like other ropes I’d trained on. I’m sure it was my lack of experience on it. At least I’m hoping so, but with the belay keeping the tension and pulling me away from the rope, I just couldn’t find a consistent way to get and keep my legs on it effectively.
I couldn’t see Bryson on the other side, but I knew he was an accomplished rope climber. It took me quite some time- maybe even weeks before I could even talk about that climb. But eventually…you know…that’s what we ninjas do. We try, we fail, we get back up, we train harder and we try again. Now, I’m just hoping for another chance at redemption.
How did Team USA feel after the competition?
AR: You know, I’m afraid that I can’t really answer that. I’m sure they were disappointed, but I needed to be by myself for awhile so I had gone off to the side afterwards. They did rally around, and it was obvious how much the win meant to Team Australia. Olivia Vivian is a good friend on the team so I was happy for her and her team. Nothing but love from Team USA mates.
The whole experience was such an honor and a privilege. I’ll never forget it.