American Ninja Warrior hit San Pedro, California, during Monday's episode for the year's last city finals, and 15 competitors in the all-military competition earned a trip to Las Vegas for the national finals.
Here is a look at those military members and veterans who qualified and kept their dreams of the $1 million prize alive:
|Military Finals—Top 15 Finishers|
|2||Matthew Jensen||8:34.65||Invisible Ladder|
|3||Ryan Stratis||8:43.93||Invisible Ladder|
|4||Ryan Pietschmann||4:05.89||Globe Grasper|
|5||Justin Gielski||4:47.34||Globe Grasper|
|6||Ahmed Toure||5:01.26||Globe Grasper|
|7||Jeremy Prather||5:40.29||Globe Grasper|
|8||Christopher Moore||5:27.55||Swinging Frames|
|9||Jeremy Guarino||5:36.35||Swinging Frames|
|10||Van Tran||5:58.93||Swinging Frames|
|11||Steve Martin||6:56.25||Swinging Frames|
|12||Caleb Hayre||3:06.65||Salmon Ladder|
|13||Preston Griffall||3:34.06||Salmon Ladder|
|14||Nathan Tucker||3:58.86||Salmon Ladder|
|15||Benjamin Barrett||6:07.98||Salmon Ladder|
Monday's episode featured a physically grueling course that included obstacles such as the Salmon Ladder, I-Beam Cross and Globe Grasper. The Salmon Ladder in particular stood out in the early going because the ninjas were forced to propel themselves and a pull-up bar up five rungs on a ladder hanging over water.
Two-time Winter Olympian and Army veteran Preston Griffall saw his run come to an end on the third rung of the Salmon Ladder, but American Ninja Warrior noted he was still in great spirits after the fall into the water:
Another early competitor who caught the attention of the fans in attendance was 43-year-old Christopher Moore. Moore may have been older than many of his fellow competitors, but the show pointed out how imposing he was as he made it past the Salmon Ladder before ultimately bowing out at the Swinging Frames:
Elsewhere, Kyle Durand fell during the I-Beam Cross, but his backstory highlighted the real meaning of the military finals. Durand actually came face-to-face with Saddam Hussein during his active duty, and American Ninja Warrior recognized his service and provided a glimpse of the I-Beam that claimed Durand and Vince Klapper:
While the I-Beam proved daunting for many in the military finals, Jeremy Prather and Ahmed Toure managed to make it through all the way to the Globe Grasper. Prather and Toure fell at the Globe Grasper, where competitors were asked to virtually do monkey bars on small, circular handles.
Fighter pilot Matthew Jensen then took the lead after becoming the first to make it past the Globe Grasper. He fell at the Invisible Ladder but easily clinched his spot in Las Vegas. The show highlighted his final push:
Jensen is a former member of the Air Force gymnastics team, and he commented on how that helped him prepare for the show, per Brent Briggeman of the Gazette:
When I stepped up to the starting platform, it felt almost exactly like I was stepping up to do my floor routine back when I was competing...The physical training (of gymnastics) has helped immensely in high G environments. It also helped me with upper body strength, core strength, body control and grip strength – all of which are crucial to completing obstacles in ANW.
While Jensen was impressive as the first to make it past the Globe Grasper, nobody topped Dustin McKinney's performance in Monday's episode. McKinney was the smallest competitor in the military finals at 5'2", but he made short work of the course as the only finisher.
McKinney didn't run into any trouble at any of the obstacles, but he was particularly imposing on the Invisible Ladder. Rather than taking his time, McKinney went as fast as he could at the beginning and had enough energy in reserve to reach the top. The show shared the triumphant moment:
The energetic Ryan Stratis followed McKinney as the final competitor in Monday's episode and closed the show with a solid run to the Invisible Ladder. Alas, McKinney was the only ninja in the military finals to finish the entire course.
That should give him plenty of confidence moving forward to Las Vegas. Nobody has ever completed every stage of the American championship course to win the $1 million grand prize, but McKinney still had plenty of energy after his outing in Monday's episode.
He will need all of that energy in the American championships.
The military finals were loaded with some of the most physically fit people in the entire country. McKinney topped that entire group and should be among the favorites in Las Vegas with the grand prize on the line.