ANW 8 just ended Monday with Drew Drechsel making it the furthest of any Ninja! Drew was one of only two athletes to make it to stage 3. This season no dedicated climber made it to stage 3. Ian Dory, arguably one of the strongest climbers in the world, fell on the second obstacle of stage 1. Brian Arnold and Josh Levin both ran out of luck on the double wedge. This leaves the question, Are climbers losing their advantage.
Let's look at some facts. Tendon strength takes longer to build than muscle strength or recover from injury than muscles. According to Dr. Shoemaker, "A pulled muscle, which is a tear in the belly of the muscle, not the tendon, should heal in 4-6 weeks. A tendon injury takes 3-6 months to repair itself." Climbers tend to have stronger tendons from their years of climbing. Tendons are crucial to success on hanging obstacles. This gave climbers a pretty heavy advantage on the other athletes that joined Ninja Warrior from different backgrounds.
It makes sense climbers have done so well on Ninja Warrior since they joined the competition. They had a significant advantage on grip obstacles vs Ninjas that came from backgrounds that don't build as much tendon strength. However, it is now 8 seasons later and non-climbers have had an opportunity to build that tendon strength and catch up.
Monday night made it pretty clear non-climbers now have the potential to complete stage 3. Drew, a parkour athlete, made it 62% of the way through arguably the toughest stage 3 course to date. Only a small miscalculation cost him his run. We also saw athletes like Brett Sim, James McGrath, and Travis Rosen finish long finals courses. Courses that we're arguably more physically demanding than a stage 3.
This rise in strength from non-climbers come as no surprise. Enough time has passed for most veteran ninjas to have developed their tendon strength to be comparable to some top climbers. In this same passage of time, we have also seen an increase in the technical difficulty of the course. This might be a reason for the early exit of climbers like Geoff Britten and Ian Dory. Ninjas coming from backgrounds like parkour or gymnastics tend to have better adaptability on these new obstacles.
As veteran ninjas close the grip strength gap it will be interesting to see how season 9 unfolds. Climbers like Ian Dory and the rest of the Wolf Pack are always threats to defeat a stage 3 but as tendons strengthen and more ninjas become capable of clearly stage 3 it will be interesting to see what ninja comes out on top next season!