Record-Setting Sumo Grand Champion Retires
March 10, 2003

At the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January 2003, Takanohana, sumo's sixty-fifth yokozuna (grand champion), retired from active competition at the age of 30. From his sumo debut in 1988 at the age of 15 Takanohana rose quickly through the ranks, setting numerous age records along the way. He notched up 22 tournament victories, the fourth most in sumo history, and became known as "the great yokozuna of the Heisei era" (1989-). At the press conference held to announce his retirement, Takanohana said, "I feel refreshed, and I'm satisfied from the bottom of my heart [with my decision to retire]." News of the grand champion's retirement elicited tributes not only from ordinary people but from Prime Minister Jun'ichiro Koizumi and even French President Jacques Chirac. All praised the wrestler for his outstanding achievements.

Injured Warrior Leaves the Ring
Takanohana was dogged by injury in the latter years of his career but showed tremendous spirit in striving to overcome his troubles. After missing seven straight tournaments with an injury to his right knee, he made a comeback at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September 2002. Although his knee was not fully healed, and he was not able to train satisfactorily, Takanohana nonetheless challenged for the championship and finished with a record of 12 wins and 3 losses, giving his fans something to cheer about for the first time in a long while. The yokozuna was forced to sit out the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in December, but he did enter the New Year tournament - held from January 12 to 26, 2003 - only to injure his left shoulder on the second day. Takanohana stepped back into the dohyo (sumo ring) after resting for two days, but on the seventh and eighth days he suffered consecutive losses to rank-and-file opponents. These disappointing performances prompted Takanohana to reflect on his future, and midway through the tournament the battle-weary warrior announced that he was stepping down from the ring for the final time.

Many believe that the original cause for Takanohana's premature retirement can be traced back to the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May 2001. The yokozuna kept wrestling through to the end of this tournament even though he was saddled with a bad injury to his right knee - eventually winning a titanic deciding bout against fellow yokozuna Musashimaru to claim victory. His courage in overcoming pain and adversity deeply touched not only his fans but the public at large. At the award ceremony Prime Minister Koizumi expressed how moved he was by the champion's gutsy performance.

Champion Ignited Recent Sumo Boom
Takanohana is the second son of stable master Futagoyama, who in his days as a popular wrestler was also known as Takanohana and reached the second-highest rank of ozeki. The younger Takanohana made his sumo debut together with his older brother Wakanohana, and the two quickly gained popularity as the "Waka-Taka brothers." Takanohana soon showed the kind of wrestling talent that had made his father so successful. He became the youngest wrestler ever to achieve some 11 different feats, including victory in the makushita (third highest) division at age 16 years and 9 months; promotion to the top makuuchi division at 17 years and 8 months; victory in the makuuchi division at 19 years and 5 months; and promotion to ozeki at 20 years and 5 months. Then in 1995, at the age of 22, he was promoted to sumo's highest rank of yokozuna. Well liked for a his personable character outside the ring as well as his sumo skills, Takanohana became a bona fide sumo superstar. Three years later, his brother Wakanohana was also promoted to grand champion, and the two became the first yokozuna brothers in sumo history. Their achievements helped to spark an upsurge of interest in sumo.

Over the last two or three years Takanohana had remained stoic in public despite his injury problems. But following his decision to retire, it seemed as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and his face became noticeably brighter. At the press conference announcing his retirement Takanohana spoke cheerfully, saying, "In all honesty, I never thought I could become a yokozuna. I'm very satisfied." As for what lies ahead, the retired champion will coach the wrestlers at his father's Futagoyama Stable. "I want to develop strong, tenacious wrestlers who never give up," he said.

Copyright (c) 2003 Japan Information Network. 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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