Amazing, amusing athletes are the stars of exhilarating summer TV shows

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If you enjoy athletic competitions there’s good news, bad news and entertainment news.

The good news is that the International Olympic Committee seems to be signaling that the Olympics will return to Los Angeles. The bad news is that we’ll have to wait until the summer of 2024 or 2028. But the entertainment news is that there are some great television shows this summer that feature thrilling competitions and feats of amazing athletic ability.

The pursuit of excellence is part of the DNA of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. The action-packed series has returned for Season 9 airing Monday nights. The premiere (on June 12th) featured the qualifying round filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood. The heart-racing obstacle course show has Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila hosting, with help from Kristine Leahy giving her observations and accenting the big “wow” moments—and there are a lot of them.

Competitors tackle the world’s most difficult obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. The national finals are staged in Las Vegas and there’s a million-dollar prize for the winner.

Host Matt Iseman said, “The success of the show is a testament to the passion that the fans have, and the connection they have with the different competitors. What’s amazing is when you watch, some of the most popular competitors are the ones that don’t even finish the course, but they give it all they’ve got and they are unbelievable to watch.” Fan favorites from past seasons, veterans Kevin Bull and Grant McCartney, have returned for another shot at completing the course and becoming the next American Ninja Warrior.

Another exhilarating summer competition is back, Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, airing Monday nights following American Ninja Warrior. It’s from the same producers who boast that Spartan features an ultra-gritty setting this season and the most grueling obstacle course ever made. Each episode will have six teams competing on a punishing mile-long course. Each team of five will be responsible for getting their teammates through mud, water and barbed wire, culminating with an attempt to conquer the dreaded Slip Wall for a shot at $250,000. Winter Olympian Apolo Ohno and ESPN personality Kelvin Washington host with World Series champ Nick Swisher and Telemundo’s MJ Acosta as course reporters.

On Sunday nights, FOX TV has American Grit, a military-inspired competition. There’s a quarter of a million dollars at stake, but the big draw is host John Cena, the WWE superstar turned actor. He is not only a phenomenal athlete but a motivational force, and he leads the charge and inspires the competitors on the show to find their “grit.”

What is grit? Cena said, “It’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.” He hopes to see it in the 17 competitors who are led through team and individual challenges to help them find their grit with the help of a group of military trained mentors – Infantry Drill Sergeant with the U.S Army John Burk, a U.S. Marine Riki Long, an Ammunition Technician with the U.S. Marines Chloe Mondesir and Green Beret Grady Powell.

“The U.S military is the epitome of resolve and dedication, which is why I am so excited to be a part of American Grit,” Cena said, and he observed, “Grit is all around us, you just have to take a moment to look for it.”

Battle of the Network Stars premieres Thursday, June 29th on ABC. It’s a reboot of the vintage celebrity competition show with the stars taking part in tug of war, archery, dunk tank, an obstacle course and other fun athletic events for personal glory and maybe even career enhancement. Super Bowl champ DeMarcus Ware and former UFC champ Ronda Rousey were announced as team captains.

The original show had a good run, airing from 1976 to 1988, pitting teams from the three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) against each other. This time around the format will have multi-generational teams separated by genres—TV Moms and Dads vs. TV Kids; Cops vs. Sitcoms; etc. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Joe Tessitore are set as hosts for the 10-episodes that will feature the celebrities blending their athleticism with comical efforts. Tune in.

Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years, and is half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.

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