Sport Other Sports Japan hails first local-born sumo grand champion in 19 years

Japan hails first local-born sumo grand champion in 19 years

Kisenosato Yutaka
Kisenosato Yutaka has broken a stranglehold by Mongolian sumo wrestlers. Photo: Getty
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A Japanese man has been crowned grand champion in the sport of sumo for the first time in almost two decades.

The 30-year-old wrestler, Kisenosato Yutaka, accepted his promotion to become the 72nd ever ‘yokozuna’ in a formal ceremony on Wednesday.

In recent years, competitors who have achieved this highest rank have most often hailed from Mongolia amid a dearth of local Japanese talent.

Murray Johnson, an Australian journalist and sumo commentator who lives in Japan, said the win was a significant milestone for the sport.

“The dominance of the Mongolians, the dominance of the men from Hawaii, the dominance of others that made it difficult for Japanese to go that extra step,” he said.

“Many people were asking the questions why [Japanese wrestlers] couldn’t get to the very pinnacle.

“There were certainly men capable along the way, but for some unknown reason, they couldn’t quite make it.”

Japanese sumo wrestler
A Japanese sumo wrestler makes his way to a Tokyo stadium to compete in the Emperor’s cup in January 2017. Photo: ABC

Tournament win a turning point for Kisenosato

At 188 centimetres tall and weighing in at 176 kilograms, Kisenosato is a big man even by sumo standards.

He has been stuck in the second-highest ranking for five years.

Mr Johnson said Kisenosato’s win represented a turning point in the wrestler’s career.

“I guess in Australian terms we’d say he was a choker,” Mr Johnson said.

“Whenever he got in a position to being able to be in the play off for the Emperor’s cup, he would lose at vital stages to people sometimes he shouldn’t lose to.”

Mr Johnson said Kisenosato had reversed his fortunes in the last 12 months by simply changing his attitude.

“Because he’s a very stoic young man, he’s kind of dull,” he said.

“But he’s very stoic about his sport, he’s very rigorous in his training, but he couldn’t just get over this mental hump to actually win it when it counted.

“And in the last tournament it looked like he really didn’t want to be there, so he’s taken a new approach of ‘OK, I’ll just get up and fight. If I win or lose, who cares?’ And that seemed to work for him.

“It’s taken him a while to find the right medicine for a victory.”

Sumo wrestlers train and live together in groups called stables.

To mark the achievement, Kisenosato’s stable mates will hoist all 176 kilograms of their new champion to their shoulders and parade him through the streets of Tokyo.


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