The Borders’ own bearded ninja has thanked the region for its support after finishing runner-up on television’s toughest gameshow.
Ali Hay, of Kelso, had viewers on the edge of their seats as he made the first half of television’s most difficult assault course look easy in the final of ITV’s Ninja Warrior UK on Saturday.
In a staggering display of strength and co-ordination, Ali flew over obstacles including the crazy cliffhanger, which had defeated all bar one of the other 14 finalists, and spider flip before coming a cropper on the flying bars thanks to an oversight.
But, having finished second only to the aptly-named Tim Champion, the first competitor ever to complete the course, the 31-year-old says he is proud of his performance overall.
“Every season everyone thinks I am going to win it, which is great. I love their confidence, but it’s one of the most unpredictable sports. It’s such a fine line between how well you do or don’t do,” he said.
“I’m the only ninja that has done three seasons and has improved every time, and I’m really proud of that. I put a lot of time into my training, so to know that it is working is a big confidence boost.”
Ali had the top of the final hurdle – the 22m rope climb dubbed Mount Midoriyama – in his sights until a mishap on the flying bars saw him hit the water.
“I got to that obstacle and I felt good. I have worked on my endurance a huge amount and I thought if I get to the rope I think I can do it, but I made a really big mistake out there,” he said.
“Before we take on the course, you have five minutes to ask questions. Last year, one of the guys asked to feel the bar, and it was really solid. I made the mistake of not asking that question. I didn’t think. It was only when I was in the air I realised it was much lighter than I’d anticipated.
“I just had to throw it and see how it landed and I overshot it.
“If you overlook something as minor as that, it will come back to bite you.”
Having finished sixth, third and now second over the last three seasons of the hit prime time show, presented by Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara, Ali is hungrier than ever to conquer the course. But after rupturing his Achilles tendon in November he faces a race against the clock to make it to next season’s start line, with filming due to take place in August.
“Right now I have got a really rigorous training schedule, mainly because of my injury,” he said. “I basically had to sit down for months and lost a huge amount of muscle mass, so in some respect it’s like starting from scratch.
“If I’m lucky enough to be invited back, I’ll give it my all. I’m determined, but at the same time I have to think of the long term. If I do my Achilles again, that could be me out of the game.
“I love ninja, I just have to be a bit sensible. I have got young kids and a lot of years ahead of me.”
Thanking viewers for their support, Ali said the latest series had drawn a diverse audience.
“I don’t see it until everyone else does so you never know how it’s going to come across,” he said. “I think the Ninja Warrior team put it together really well, it was really thrilling TV. It’s always fun but I think a lot more people have appreciated the athleticism this time.
“I have had a lot of people who never really watch much on TV telling me they are really keen on the show.
“From people in their 80s all the way down to kids going nuts, the reaction has been incredible, and I want to thank every one of them for supporting me and having my back.”