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Bulgarian Wrestler Becomes First European-born Ozeki (January 11, 2006)

Kotooshu is congratulated by junior wrestlers in his stable. (Jiji)
A new star was born at the 2005 Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu was promoted to the rank of ozeki after compiling an 11-4 record in the tournament and a combined 36-9 record in his last three tournaments. In doing so, he became the first European ever to reach sumo's second-highest rank, taking only 19 tournaments, the fastest such rise in sumo history. The 22-year-old came to Japan from his native Bulgaria three years ago. Many of his compatriots regard him as the pride of their nation, and he is frequently the subject of TV sports shows. Let us take a closer look at this young phenom.

From Wrestling to Sumo
"I'm going to devote myself to practice so as not to disgrace the rank of ozeki." So proclaimed a nervous Kotooshu at his ozeki promotion ceremony. Although he speaks good Japanese, giving a speech at such a prestigious traditional ceremony is a different matter. He said that he had hardly slept the night before and had practiced his speech "thousands of times." After the ceremony, the handsome athlete, who has been dubbed the "David Beckham of sumo," looked relieved to have got through the ceremony without a hitch.

Kotooshu, whose real name is Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, was born in the rural Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo. He fell in love with wrestling after being introduced to the sport at age 14. As he piled up tournament victories, he earned a reputation as a prodigy. He was on the brink of making Bulgaria's Olympic team when revisions to the weight classes forced the young wrestler, then weighing more than 120 kilos, to abandon his pursuit. He was already over two meters tall. Though his size hindered him during his wrestling career, it has become one of his greatest assets as a rikishi (sumo wrestler).

Kotooshu saw a sumo practice in Bulgaria and, while watching TV one day, thought it might be something he could be good at. Having gained entry into the sport through an affiliate of the Sadogatake Stable living in Europe, he made his debut at the Kyushu tournament in 2002 and broke into the upper-level makuuchi ranks after just 11 tournaments. It then took him just eight more tournaments to reach the rank of ozeki. Boasting strong legs, speed that enables him to run the 100-meters in 11.5 seconds, a grip powerful enough to crush an apple, and a robust build honed through wrestling, Kotooshu has racked up victories using his decisive strength advantage and a powerful combination of thrusts and throws. Some even consider him the only viable contender to dethrone Asashoryu, sumo's current dominant star.

Gentle Giant
Kotooshu is also known for his strong devotion to his fitness. His diet consists mainly of vegetables, and he does not eat fatty cuts of meat. He has even expressed criticism at the fact that there is no trainer at Sadogatake Stable and that wrestlers there must keep training even if they are injured or tired.

Kotooshu is also highly popular back home in Bulgaria, where his exploits in tournaments are front-page news and he is often featured on TV sports shows. Bulgarian officials have remarked that his success is unprecedented and that Bulgaria has become known to the world thanks to his success.

"I work for my parents, who operate a farm back home," says the strong but gentle giant. Kotooshu has finalized deals to appear in commercials for Bulgarian yogurt, as well as for three other companies, and is certain to be flooded with many more offers. He undoubtedly possesses the popularity and talent to become a leading presence in the world of sumo.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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