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Kromm

What Are The Ideal Backgrounds For Successful "Ninjas"?

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I've been thinking about this, and I've come to the conclusion that Kacy Catanzaro, despite her height (and in a few ways maybe even because of it) wasn't such an unlikely candidate to do as well as she did.

 

Think about it.  On the Japanese version, it's often the little wiry guys who did best.  Kacy in many ways emulates that better than most of the American men.  If it's about strength to mass ratio, while the typical woman is rarely going to match up, it's on this end of the body spectrum where one might come closest maybe.  She can't lift MORE than most men, but she may be able to lift and hold her own body weight better than a lot of them. And that's before we even get into how someone of her build moves.

 

In line with that, there's her gymnastic background.  The show always talks about how ideal Parkour and Rock Climbing are as training grounds, but if you think about it, Gymnastics is probably even better.  With male gymnasts there are The Rings--a perfect training ground--but as a female gymnast Kacy probably rarely if ever encountered that.  But even still, there's the uneven bars.  That's got to develop a serious grip and serious hand-strength.  So that takes care of several of the typical ANW obstacles.  And the Balance Beam probably helps with the inevitable "run along a narrow or unstable surface" challenge in every course.  

 

Clearly stuff with wingspan needs are the big problem.  I am NOT including the Warped Wall in this, because that's an entirely different animal, IMO.  But stuff like the poles, for example, show how someone like her has to take a different approach.  What she needed to be able to do (and she did it on that swinging obstacle too) was to be able to leap between places, and using JUST the strength of her hands and forearms, hold on when she made contact.  And this approach (vs. tall people just reaching across) actually FAVORS her body type.  Men, particularly ones with a bigger build, are hampered by their own mass when they leap between things and can only use their grip to catch themselves. That's less of a problem with someone who has 2/3rds or even sometimes 1/2 the mass of those guys.  

 

And then there's the Warped Wall.  Clearly there's a huge inherent advantage with height.  But the SHAPE of the wall (vs. it just being a straight up and down) means you can actually run up half the wall or more, cutting the "jump" you have to make to the top a lot less if you do that right.  The perfect athlete for this, other than the tall people I mean, would probably be someone like a Long Jumper.  At least until the end, where you need to be able to lift your own body weight.  Anyway, while Kacy is no Long Jumper, it occurs to me that the key to gymnastic floor exercises is also often about being able to summon big bursts of running speed in small areas.  So that's anther place her background slots in fairly well.

 

I think Kacy also had another secret weapon for a few of these obstacles that didn't really get discussed on the broadcast. Big, long feet.  Watch back how she tackled the Spider-Crawl up the tower.  It was so easy for her, I think, despite her height, because properly placed her feet made up for some of her lack of "wingspan" (it also didn't hurt that the "wingspan" formula is usually about arms, but women typically have out of proportion length legs compared to men, so her disadvantage due to her height may not have been as great there anyway).  

 

Anyway, there may be a number of different roads towards being effective.  The above, I think, is just how a woman did it.

Edited by Kromm
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My sister was a competitive gymnast for years (not nearly the level Kacy was). The warped wall is very similar to the vault for gymnasts. They run down a ways as fast as they can. They hit a thing similar to a mini trampoline but not a mini-trampoline and then flip up onto a "horse." They then use their arms to fling themselves up as much as they can to flip around a bunch of different ways.  

 

Almost all of the uneven bar tricks use the strength of their arms/hands. They are used to holding up their own body weight on their arms only and constantly readjusting grip based on the trick. It also teaches them a lot about different levels of holding the bar - tighter or looser - based on what they're trying to accomplish. There are many tricks that require a looser grip that was similar to the tightness of the grip she did when she leaped to the furthest vertical bar.  It's hard to explain, but you have to have a loose enough grip to continue flipping around the bar but at the same time tight enough so you don't go flying off.  

 

It does make me wonder what it would look like if a male gymnast came through. Their apparatus are similar to that of the women and they typically have the leaner body that seems to work well. 

Edited by joanne3482

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It does make me wonder what it would look like if a male gymnast came through. Their apparatus are similar to that of the women and they typically have the leaner body that seems to work well. 

I don't remember the name, but I recall Iseman describing at least one guy this season (at one of the qualifying rounds--I'm not sure but it might have been Venice) as a gymnast.

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Multiple male gymnasts have made it to the third stage in the Japanese version: The Hamm brothers from the US and Jordan jovchev (sp?) from Bulgaria I think. Jovchev made the fourth stage once.

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Think about it.  On the Japanese version, it's often the little wiry guys who did best.  Kacy in many ways emulates that better than most of the American men.  If it's about strength to mass ratio, while the typical woman is rarely going to match up, it's on this end of the body spectrum where one might come closest maybe.  She can't lift MORE than most men, but she may be able to lift and hold her own body weight better than a lot of them. And that's before we even get into how someone of her build moves.

 

 

I thought the same thing about Kacy.  Gymnastics and her build served her well.  From the back you can see that her shoulders are wider than her hips. She has more of a V shape than hourglass.  Her strength is in her upper body.  

Edited by beagletime
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I thought I heard at US Nationals that Jonathan Horton, a two-time Olympian (and a silver medalist) went to ANW, but didn't make it past the qualifying round.  Of course, he's recovering from shoulder surgery on *both shoulders*, which might have had something to do with it.

 

Most male gymnasts are freakishly muscular and relatively short.  In addition to the still rings, they have parallel bars, pommel horse, and high bar, which all require grip strength and ability to adjust, and vault and floor, which require leg power and short bursts of speed.  I'm surprised elite male gymnasts haven't fared better.

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The commentators have seemed to make the point this season that people with pole vaulting do well.  After all both Jessie Graff and Meagan Martin have that background.  And from the guys, Levi Keller (although he's been less successful than those two women--this season , for example, apparently he went out on the 2nd obstacle, in the Houston qualifiers)

 

But they glossed over the fact that both women also had gymnastics background, so maybe it's the COMBO of both of those that's the thing.  Also, Meagan has rock climbing too, and if Graff doesn't overtly have that, many of the things she does as a stuntwoman fill the same training niche as rock climbing.

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For women, the answer seems to be: an ex-gymnast rock climber.  (Or stuntperson, but still...)

 

But there just aren't as many male ex-gymnasts out there - the pool isn't as deep as it is for the women.  And there aren't really that many sports/activities that male athletes are funneled into that give the body control and balance training of gymnastics.  An ex-pole vaulting rock climber who runs parkour on the side?  Circus folk?  Maybe that's why the guy from Hawai'i did as well as he did. (Surfing/ cliff diving/ cliff climbing if we're to believe his promo package and infer where necessary.)

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Two groups of people succeed on Ninja Warrior. Parkour practitioners and rock climbers. The grip strength and fluid movements help a great deal. An athletic background always helps though.

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Many of the top Japanese competitors are people with regular, non-athletics/non-sports, jobs, and many even have no sports background.

I suppose it's also possible in ANW, although it seems like those who train almost constantly, or who have professional athletics backgrounds, tend to get cast, or they can afford to allocate the time required to appear on the show.

Edited by mmal

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