Rookie makes sumo history after winning top tournament

OSAKA: A sumo star was born in Japan when 24-year-old Takerufuji became the first wrestler in more than a century to win a tournament on his debut in the top division.

Despite suffering an ankle injury the previous day that left him in a wheelchair outside the ring, Takerufuji defeated higher-ranked Gonoyama on Sunday to triumph at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka.

Takerufuji’s ascent to glory is the fastest the traditional sport has ever seen.

It was only his 10th championship overall and took place just 18 months after he first set foot in sumo’s sacred “dohyo” ring as a competitor.

It is the first time since 1914 that a wrestler has won their first tournament in the top “makuuchi” division.

As is tradition, Takerufuji — real name Mikiya Ishioka — was paraded through the streets of Osaka afterwards in the back of a gleaming, open-top car as crowds waved and cheered.

He told reporters that on Saturday he had given up hope, having needed hospital treatment for an ankle-ligament injury that for a short while required the use of a wheelchair.

“At that point I had abandoned hope,” he said on Monday.

Then the highest-ranked wrestler, the yokozuna, “came to see me and he said: ‘You can do it. It’s not the result that counts, but the memory.'”

Takerufuji said winning the tournament had been a “far-fetched dream, so I never thought I would make it this far”.

The young wrestler from Aomori in northern Japan has been rising fast, having only lost 10 times in 79 fights since his professional debut in September 2022.

He is so new that his hair has not yet grown long enough to be styled in the most elaborate top-knot worn by competitors, Japanese media noted.

After winning the prestigious tournament, the 1.84 m (six foot), 143 kilo (315 pounds) Takerufuji was presented with a huge silver trophy in his purple loincloth.

His right ankle was bandaged and his thighs streaked with dirt.

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