Not only striving to be the best in "American Ninja Warrior," which could happen eventually, but Caiden Madzelan wants to be Olympian, which also could happen.
The teenager from Troutdale, already an "American Ninja Warrior" veteran, has been invited to be part of an Olympics showcase of ninja obstacle racing in Indianapolis in October. It's entirely possible that the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics could feature ninja obstacle racing — i.e. the stuff of "American Ninja Warrior," as shown on NBC every year. Each Olympic host city can add a sport, and it's a strongly held belief that ninja obstacle racing could be the sport in L.A. It has to be approved by the International Olympic Committee.
Madzelan already talks about it, as if he'll get the opportunity to make the Olympic team and possibly race in the Olympics.
"There's a lot of big-name ninjas saying it's going to happen," Madzelan said. "(The sport) is everywhere — Germany, UK, Poland." And, one would think given some advance preparation, a great many countries could prepare athletes for the 2028 Olympics.
"There are a lot of gyms and it's supremely hard, but when you get the skill set down … the obstacles themselves are not too challenging," he added. "It takes a long time to get the skill set. Like with everything you have to be dedicated, but it's gaining popularity."
He'll be 22 in 2028 "and that's a good age," Madzelan said. "I was always under the idea it could be an Olympic sport. Now that it's going to happen in 2028, when I'm going to be at my peak, it's going to be nice. I'm definitely going to be looking at colleges with gyms near them (to train)."
First things first: Madzelan, 16, gets to enjoy his senior year at Reynolds High School, all the while still honing his talents and elevating his status among the elite "American Ninja Warrior" competitors.
Last year, competing against men for the first time, Madzelan made the "ANW" finals in Las Vegas, but a late skyhook mistake prevented him from finishing in time — he timed out.
Well, he's back. Madzelan finished fourth in the San Antonio, Texas qualifier — two spots better than last year in qualifying — and made the Los Angeles city finals, which can be seen on KGW (8) TV on Monday, July 25. The family has been notified that Madzelan's run will be part of the NBC broadcast — so, tune in and watch him.
If he makes the top 15, he qualifies again for the Las Vegas national finals. (We're talking TV time here, because all the competitions have already taken place, with results secretly guarded.) He was 12th in L.A. last year.
"San Antonio went great," Madzelan said. "I finished the course with the fourth fastest time, and it felt good to perform at my best.
"It gave me a sense of pride knowing that I performed at a level I know I'm at. Super rare in this sport. One of my best performances. Everything fluid and came together." He beat the likes of veterans Adam Rayl and Sean Bryan.
He could have placed higher, but an incentive ($10,000) given competitors was to try to scale a "mega wall" at the end before finishing. He rested and prepared (taking time off his run) and didn't make it, but Madzelan, who competes at 6-1, 165 pounds, easily topped the final wall to place fourth.
He and "Cowboy Ninja" Lance Pekus from Salmon, Idaho are the two competitors in L.A. from the Northwest. Local ninjas Chris Crary and John "Legal Eagle Ninja" Kodachi didn't make it past qualifying.
At Las Vegas last year, Madzelan felt "intimidated" and also sick. So, nearly finishing while not at his best has given him much confidence going forward.
For good measure, Madzelan has continued training and also set his sights on a Guinness Book of World Records mark. It's the longest lache (swing) from bar to bar — 18 feet, 3 inches. He recently hit 17-6 at one of his gyms, Skyhook Ninja Fitness in Tigard, and then got "cocky and arrogant and 'let's push it back to 18 feet' … and I didn't get it," he said. "I'll give myself a few weeks to let my shoulders rest, and try it again."
His parents remain very proud of their son, who has participated in athletics for Reynolds — cross country, track and field — but who has committed himself to ninja obstacle racing. He's been doing hardcore training for several years and not burned himself out. He's a teenager racing among men and doing well.
"I'm so proud of him, but I will be honest, so much of this is Caiden," his mother, Lisa Madzelan, said. "His hard work and dedication and drive and focus. Anything I can do to support him along the way that's what I want to do. … The expectation has been, 'You're a student-athlete, student comes first,' I expect him to maintain high grades."
Madzelan is working as a parking attendant at McMenamin's Edgefield this summer. He's eyeing colleges such as Utah and Colorado. He is training and he'll participate in the Bald Faced Truth's Camp Exceptional this week as a team leader; run by John and Anna Canzano, Camp Exceptional is a sports camp for kids of all abilities, mixing kids with autism and Down syndrome with neurotypical kids in sports activities.
For more, see baldfacedtruth.org/camp-exceptional-summer-camp.
Madzelan may or may not participate in the cross country season, as he concentrates on the Bucket of Chalk race in Colorado — a four-stage competition, with racing like in "ANW" — and the Olympics showcase, both in October.
"Everything's going really well right now," Madzelan said. "I took a little break after 'American Ninja Warrior' filming, but I'm hitting the weights and doing push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups and running on the treadmill."
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