Kacy Catanzaro Makes History

It is by total coincidence that today's Open Thread host is Nagano, the first second Japanese Ninja Warrior to successfully reach the top of Mount Midoriyama, because, last night, Kacy Catanzaro became the first female Ninja Warrior, in either Japan or the US, to complete the finals qualifying course and qualify for the finals and a shot at reaching the top of Mount Midoriyama.

I've mentioned before that we're total Ninja Warrior heads at Shakes Manor; we've been fans since the original Japanese version, Sasuke, started airing in the states, and we know all the Japanese competitors and from which prefecture they travel to compete. And now we're completely enamored with the US version, and IT IS THE BEST DAY when the Japanese Ninja Warriors travel to the States or the American Ninja Warriors travel to Japan, and we get to see all the best warriors compete with each other and cheer each other on and HUG EACH OTHER ALL THE HUGS!


If you aren't familiar with Ninja Warrior, it's an obstacle course competition, in which a huge group of people—including both returning contestants and walk-ons—face a daunting obstacle course. If they finish, they go on to stage two, which is an even more daunting obstacle course that must be completed in under two minutes. (Or whatever time is set for the particular configuration that season.) And if they finish that, they go on to stage three, which is not timed, and is just a brutal test of one's upper body strength—just hanging, hanging, and more hanging as the contestants traverse all manner of obstacles while their feet dangle beneath them.

Anyone who manages to complete the third stage—and, often, no one does—has a shot at Mount Midoriyama, which is just a timed rope climb. And good luck quickly climbing a rope after your arms and back have just been destroyed by stage three.

The other thing about this competition? Is that it happens once a year.

So the competitors train for an entire year, many of them building facsimiles of the courses in their backyards (or training at one of the many gyms popping up featuring iconic Ninja Warrior obstacles), and have one shot to see if they can make it through.

Since near the very beginning of Ninja Warrior, women have competed. (In Japan, there is a separate Women of Ninja Warrior competition, although women still compete in the "men's" version, too.) In recent years, in the US, some women have gotten close to finishing the first round, but none of them had ever managed to defeat the looming Warped Wall, which is always the final obstacle of stage one—a 14-foot vertical half-pipe that competitors must navigate by perfecting a running-leaping strategy.

Earlier this season, Kacy Catanzaro, a former division-one gymnast who is only five feet tall, became the first woman to top the Warped Wall. Several other women followed her. And then, last night, she because the first woman to complete the qualifying course to go to the finals by defeating an extended course. And it was fucking amazing, basically. Iain and I were for real cheering in our living room.

[I'm not going to transcribe the commentators, Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, because they are annoying. Just pretend they said, "She is five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds!" a million times in a row, which is basically what happened.]

Kacy Catanzaro, a petite white woman, stands on the starting platform. Her boyfriend, Brent Steffensen, a white man who is an accomplished Ninja Warrior veteran, stands on the sidelines, applauding her and looking super nervous.

The buzzer goes off, and Kacy begins, first leaping her way across the Quintuple Steps, which are staggered steps hovering over a pool of water. After completing that, she moves on to the Log Grip, which is a vertical log with shallow hand-holds and no foot-holds, which swings with a steep drop over a pool of water. She completes that without falling off, and, in the stands, Brett is leading a chant of "Kacy! Kacy! Kacy!"

Next, she moves on to the Unstable Bridge, which is a spinning foam thingy she traverses with ease. Next, it's onto a trapeze swing that takes her onto a cargo net, which she has to traverse underneath in the smallest space between a pool of water that she can't touch. She makes it through and the crowd cheers. "I love you guys! Thank you!" she calls to them.

Next is the ring toss, which is an obstacle in which she needs to traverse across an inclining then declining then inclining again series of pegs, using two big round rings, moving them from peg to peg. She swings from one to the next, almost falling at one point, and then recovering. She does it! The crowd goes wild!

"Beat that wall!" chants the crowd, as she faces the Warped Wall. She gets it in one try, and the crowd erupts. They chant her name as she faces one of the toughest Ninja Warrior obstacles: The Salmon Ladder, which is just a straight-upward climb using a bar to hop upwards between sets of pointed brackets. She does it!

Next it's onto the Swinging Frames, which are devilish metal frames that tilt backwards as one moves across them, making it ever more difficult to reach the next one. Kacy doesn't have the wingspan to reach, at all, so she LEAPS from one to the next! The crowd loses it! They are just screaming and applauding for her and shouting her name.

And then she's onto the Pole Grasper, which is a field of poles one must navigate without sliding down or falling off. At one point, the poles are farther apart than she is tall, so she has to LEAP!!! and SPIN IN MIDAIR!!! from one pole to the next. She grabs the pole, spinning around, but clings on! And then she's through!

"She's one of the most talented athletes I've ever known," her boyfriend says from the sidelines, gazing at her.

She faces the final obstacle, the Spider Climb, which is a four-foot wide and thirty feet tall shaft that contestants must traverse by pressing their hands and feet against the walls and shimmy straight upwards. Kacy positions herself, then zips up quickly. She pulls herself onto the platform at the top and hits the buzzer. SHE'S DONE IT!!!

The crowd cheers; she yells; Brett climbs up the outside of the platform to celebrate with her. It cuts off there, but, when it aired, they kissed and hugged, and he congratulates her, and she says, "I couldn't have done it without you." (He's her trainer, as well as her boyfriend.) And he replied, "Yes, you could have, but I'm glad to be able to share it with you."
I love a lot of things about Ninja Warrior, but right at the top of that list is the fact that women are not only welcome to compete with the men, but the men cheer them the fuck on. They want women to succeed in this male-dominated sport.

Everyone is there to compete against themselves. They all cheer each other on, because they all know you can only do the best that you can do, and if someone else's best is better, well, that's just spectacular to watch.

And they knew they were witnessing something special watching Kacy's run, and they celebrated it. It's pretty special (although it shouldn't be) to watch a bunch of guys cheer so goddamn hard for a girl.

I can't wait to see Kacy take on the finals. Go, Kacy!!!

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