Borders bearded ninja Ali Hay admits it’s not in his nature to play it safe after chalking up the fastest first-round time to secure a semi-final spot in ITV’s Ninja Warrior UK.
Appearing for the third time 0n the primetime show, Ali booked his place in this year’s semi-finals after flying “catlike” over one of the world’s toughest obstacle courses.
Starring in the fifth series’ opening show on Saturday, Ali’s performance impressed commentators Ben Shepherd and Chris Kamara, and they dubbed him one of the favourites to go all the way this year.
“I didn’t know I had got the fastest time until I watched the show because we had to rush off on the day to catch a train,” Ali told the Southern.
“It felt quick, but when we left, there were still around 30 people to go.”
The 30-year-old, of Kelso, made the finals of series three and four, finishing sixth and third respectively, and has carved out a following among fans, arriving at this year’s event in Manchester to find many there clad in ‘bearded ninja’ T-shirts.
“It’s great. People are getting used to me doing well now, but I feel a bit more pressure from that because they just assume I’m going to coast it every time,” he admitted.
“It doesn’t always go that way, though. Ninja is such a delicate sport it doesn’t matter how good a shape you’re in. You can be right at the top of your game and something can still go wrong. There’s no guarantees in Ninja Warrior.”
Ali will return to the screen during the semi-finals, due to be aired on Saturdays, May 11 and May 18.
“I’ve been so focused in the last two series that I wanted to try and enjoy the experience a bit more this time but also push my boundaries and go as fast as I could,” Ali said.
“Last year, I broke the record for a semi-final time, so I was really looking to go after that again. That’s just the way I am. Maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I should approach it differently and it should just be about completing the course and playing it a bit safe, but that’s not me.”
Borders viewers tuning in to support Ali at the weekend were surprised to see another local contestant step up to the mark during Saturday night’s show – his girlfriend Linsey Young, also of Kelso.
And while the course beat Linsey this time round, with the 20-year-old PE student making it across the floating steps but slipping from the trapeze during the ‘flying squirrel’, Ali is backing her to go all the way should she choose to try again.
“She did great,” Ali said. “The course is hard, but the whole occasion is the hardest thing. There’s thousands of people there, and the pressure is really high. She was disappointed, but everybody is really proud of her. I’m trying to convince her to do it again because I know she can do it.”
Ranked in the top three in the Scottish Ninja League, Linsey kept her Ninja Warrior appearance under wraps since filming last year.
“Nobody knew I was doing it,” Linsey said. “I managed to keep it a secret from everybody, even my family. They knew I was going down but they just thought I was going to support Ali.
“My mum even texted me during Saturday night’s show to ask where I was sitting, because she’d seen some of the guys we train with in the audience and I wasn’t with them.”
And although she enjoyed seeing the event first hand, she admitted the scale of it affected her performance.
“It’s so scary. I was completely overwhelmed,” she said. “I tried it too quickly. I should have taken another swing on the second part but I wanted to get down.
“I actually dislocated my shoulder falling off, but we didn’t know that until later.”
She says the reaction she has had might just spur her on to face the course again, though.
“Ever since it was filmed last year, I was nervous about how it would come out, but since the show aired on Saturday I have had such a nice response,” she said.
“I’m still on the fence about whether to try again – if they’d have me, that is – but I’m more inclined to do it now I’ve had such positive feedback.”