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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hakuho ready to climb another level in Nagoya


Staff writer

Despite having sumo's highest rank in sight, ozeki Hakuho is not necessarily getting himself all psyched up.

News photo
Ozeki Hakuho speaks to the media at the National Press Club on Monday in Tokyo.

"If I train a lot and get my condition ready and believe in the confidence I got in winning the summer tournament, I know I can do well in Nagoya," Hakuho said on Monday.

The Mongolian ozeki has gone 13-2, 13-2, and 14-1 in the last three basho.

If he wins the next tournament in Nagoya next month with few losses, he is likely to be promoted to yokozuna.

Hakuho's biggest asset is his strong body, which he fostered in the vast grasslands of Mongolia.

"When I was little, I would always go out to meadows and ride a horse, basking in nature's power," he said at Japan National Press Club on Monday, a day after winning a single-elimination tournament in Tokyo.

The 21-year-old Hakuho is the most conspicuous rising sumo wrestler right now as he made his ozeki debut in spectacular fashion.

He won his first Emperor's Cup by defeating sekiwake Miyabiyama in a playoff on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo last month.

It was only six years ago that Hakuho came to Japan. He said he was a big fan of Japanese sumo when he was in Mongolia, and grew up watching pioneers from the country like Kyokushuzan and Kyokutenho.

"(Sumo) looked so easy to me at that time, but now I think I was wrong," Hakuho laughed.

Hakuho was a 175-cm, 62-kg thin boy when he came to Japan at the age of 15, and no stable wanted him. But he trained hard in the ring and ate a lot off it, gaining a huge frame, and all of his efforts have quickly paid off.

Hakuho was named ozeki in March, becoming the fourth-fastest wrestler to reach the rank in history. He was also the fourth-youngest wrestler to win an Emperor's Cup.

Hakuho's father might be more famous and well-respected in Mongolia. Jigjid Munkbat won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and was also a grand champion in Mongolian wrestling called boke.

Hakuho's mother is a surgeon.

So Hakuho certainly has some blue blood in his vessels.

But he doesn't only rely on his pedigree. Hakuho said he often listens to his parents to guide him.

"My mother has more say than my father about my sumo," a smiling Hakuho said. "My father basically tells me, 'Calm down' or stuff like that.

"But on the 14th day of the summer tournament last month, I stayed with my father in the same hotel room, and he told me about how to fight under massive pressure.

"He was also saying, 'I never cut corners during a bout. When I feel my opponent's body beneath me, then I finally recognize that I beat him.'

"In the last tournament, during a bout with Miyabiyama, I felt I almost won. But he came back, and I lost. So my father's words are right."

If Hakuho becomes yokozuna, he will be the second Mongolian-born wrestler to gain the title after Asashoryu, who is the lone yokozuna right now.

According to Hakuho, Japanese sumo is extremely popular in Mongolia.

He described the circumstances as: "People don't get to work and lock their doors to watch on TV."

Not just with the Mongolian wrestlers, but sumo is filled with so many foreign-born rikishi, such as Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu and Russian maegashira Roho.

Hakuho, a native of Ulan Bator, welcomes the trend.

"Yes, I feel the sport's internationalization," Hakuho said. "I think it's a good thing because everyone has his own style of sumo and it makes sumo more interesting. We have more nationalities now and they will make sumo's popularity increase."

While Japanese kids have recently tended not to want to participate in sumo, according to Hakuho, there are many Mongolian children who want to become sumo wrestlers here.

So will sumo soon be dominated by the Mongolians?

Hakuho replied "No," because, like Japanese kids, "the Mongolians kids are now playing TV games, not playing outside.

"Our generation may be the last that produces strong Mongolians," Hakuho said.



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