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Preston Griffall Makes “American Ninja Warrior” History

By Brandon Penny | July 28, 2014, 1:06 p.m. (ET)

Preston Griffall waves after completing his second run with Matt Mortensen during the luge doubles competition at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Centre on Feb. 12, 2014.

Five months after competing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and then giving Matt Lauer and Al Roker a lesson in luge, Preston Griffall is continuing to make headlines but this time in a different venue: “American Ninja Warrior.” The two-time Olympic luger became the first Olympian ever to complete a qualifying course on the hit obstacle course competition show. The show has attracted a dozen U.S. Olympians in its six-year history, but Griffall was the first to successfully reach the top of the 14-foot warped wall (which marks the end of each qualifying course) when he competed in Miami earlier this  summer.

The Park City, Utah, native plans to focus on school for the next year and forego the upcoming luge season, but he might have found a new hobby in “American Ninja Warrior.” Griffall spoke to TeamUSA.org about his experience on the show prior to the Miami finals, which air Monday night at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.

Preston Griffall and Matt Mortensen pose for a photo on the "Today" show set on Feb. 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

You’ve been following “American Ninja Warrior” since it first aired five years ago. How did you get a spot on the show this season?

Kate Hansen, my teammate, competed in Venice Beach (California). One of her friends knew someone on the production side of the show, so they contacted her and got her on the show. She called me and told me she was going to be on it and I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited, but I was a little upset, too, because I’ve been talking about that show for a few years now and have always wanted to be on it. So she talked to the casting producer or someone at the show and told them I was psyched and wanted to be on the show and they got a hold of me and asked me to be on the show. I still had to send in a submission video and everything, but they got me on the show, which was rad.

What experience did you have with obstacle courses?

A few years ago I did a Spartan Beast here in Soldier Hollow, Utah, with a bunch of my buddies. That was awesome — not quite the same thing, but it was still really cool with a bunch of different obstacles. I was in the Army for four years so going through basic training helped a little bit, but really all the obstacles in “American Ninja Warrior” are very unique to the show.

Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the show?

Specifically for the course, no. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know if there’s a gym here (Park City, Utah) that has the obstacles, but I started working out specific muscle groups that I thought would be important, like grip strength. I did a bit of rock climbing before competing in the first show. The good thing about luge is a lot of the training we do is very upper body-based, and for a majority of the obstacles on “American Ninja Warrior” it’s very upper body-oriented, so I think that helped out a lot, but there was a lot more technique than I thought there was going to be.

Knowing how few people typically finish the course, how did you expect to fare?

When I got to Miami and looked at the course, I thought for sure I was going to be able to do it. You don’t get to practice on it or anything. You get one run and that’s it. I was just worried about doing something stupid and tripping over my feet, or embarrassing myself. I wasn’t too worried about the physical side of it, but beforehand I was trying to visualize what it was going to be like and how I was going to feel. Maybe that helped a little bit. It was an amazing experience, though. Afterwards, I wanted to get back on it and asked if I could run around on the course, but they told me no. Everything about it was the coolest thing ever.

How does it feel to be the first Olympian to complete a course on “American Ninja Warrior”?

When they told me, I was shocked, mostly because I know how many incredible athletes there are out there, and there’s been a fair amount of Olympians who have been on the show. I was pretty surprised, actually, but that’s awesome. I was pretty stoked on that.

Did you talk to Kate Hansen (who went out on the third of six obstacles in her qualifying course) after you finished?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I had to give her a call and talk some trash. Kate and I have been teammates for a lot of years, so it’s always good to keep that competition inside you and talk a little trash to your teammates. It was all in good fun, but yeah, as soon as I finished the course I had to rub it in a little bit.

What surprised you the most about the experience?

Before going to Miami to compete on the show, I didn’t know anything about the culture of it. It turns out there are people who train year-round for this show and they’re going to gyms that have built these specific obstacles. It’s pretty wild. All these obstacles are so unique that you have to train on them because there’s technique to each one.

It was interesting to see there’s this huge community. It seemed like the majority of the people there all knew each other and have trained together. It’s like a big family. I was actually asking quite a few of the guys if they had any tips, and I got to meet Shaun Murray, who’s basically the godfather of wakeboarding. I also hung out with Fabien Lefevre, who competed in canoe/kayak for France and recently moved to the U.S. It was cool to meet everyone and hopefully I’ll go to one of the gyms and train with these guys.

What do you think about Kacy Catanzaro, who has received a lot of attention after being the first woman ever to complete a qualifying (and finals) course?

That was unbelievable. She was in Miami, just hanging out and cheering on some of the other competitors she knew. I didn’t actually meet her but I saw her there. At the time I had no idea how she had done in her competition (in Dallas). I’ve watched her run a couple times now and it was unreal. After doing it, I give her huge props. It’s not easy and she’s only 5-foot. I feel like on a lot of the obstacles being taller gives you a huge advantage, so for her to be able to do that and make it look that easy is awesome. Maybe I can go train with her; she’ll give me some of her secrets!

Do you plan to stay involved with the “American Ninja Warrior” community and compete again next year?

Yeah, absolutely. If they want me to be on the show, I’ll do it every year! And I’ve told pretty much everyone that I talk to about it — especially a lot of my Olympic teammates — they have to get on next year because it’s so much fun. So hopefully we’ll have a bunch of Olympians on next year!

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