SUMO'S HAWAIIAN GIANT:
Second Foreign Wrestler Reaches Highest Rank
August 6, 1999
Hawaiian sumo wrestler Fiamalu Penitani, known by his sumo name of Musashimaru, has gained promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion) after winning the May 1999 summer tournament--his second straight victory. The sixty-seventh yokozuna, Musashimaru, 28, becomes the second foreign-born wrestler to achieve the highest rank, following fellow Hawaiian native Akebono.
Slow but Steady Rise
Musashimaru is from the Hawaiian island of Oahu. He entered the Musashigawa beya (training stable) after having conditioned his body as a wrestler and football player and rose smoothly through the ranks. He was promoted to ozeki in 1994, but then his progress came to a standstill. In addition to struggling under the weight of his considerable frame of 191 centimeters (six feet three inches) and 223 kilograms (490 pounds), he has been hampered by a somewhat timid personality and unaggressive style. As a result, many critics predicted that the ozeki would never break through to the highest level.
At the end of 1998, however, Musashimaru gave up drinking and shed close to 10 kilograms (22 pounds). This determined lifestyle change carried over to his performance in the ring, bringing him consecutive victories in the March and May tournaments. With these triumphs, along with his impressive all-time record of 52 straight tournaments without a losing record and his award for 790 consecutive appearances from the time of his debut, he finally gained promotion to yokozuna, realizing his long-held ambition. "Musashimaru has a body resilient to injury and is a steady performer who should be around for a long time," said Kazuo Ichiriki, chairman of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, expressing his high hopes for the wrestler.
Even the giant Musashimaru gets stage fright on formal occasions, however. After the summer tournament, in an official response to news of his promotion, Musashimaru was so nervous that he comically mixed up some important words at one point in his speech. The big wrestler, who took Japanese citizenship in January 1996, apparently was unable to stop shaking.
An Increasingly International Sport
In addition to Musashimaru, victories at the summer tournament were recorded by Kaishinzan of the United States in the makushita (fourth-lowest) division , Mongolia's Asashoryu in the jonidan division (second lowest), and Kaihakuzan of South Korea in the lowest jonokuchi division. This was the largest number of foreign champions in their respective divisions in a single sumo tournament in history. And with more and more young foreign wrestlers achieving success in the sport of late--there are currently 15 active foreigners from six countries--sumo seems to be on its way to becoming an international sport.
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.