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Grand sumo champion (yokozuna) Hakuho in Tokyo on January 8, 2019 / AFP / Archives
His record makes him the greatest yokozuna (grand champion) in sumo history: Mongolian wrestler Hakuho, who ended his career on Monday at the age of 36, will now focus on training young people. talents.
In twenty years spent surveying the “dohyo” (clay mounds where fights take place), he has broken almost all the records of this traditional Japanese sport: greater number of tournaments won (45), of fights won in a career (1,187) and over one year (86 out of 90 in 2009).
Only one record will escape him: that of the greatest winning streak, set at 69 in the 1930s. Hakuho failed by a short header, at 63.
The yokozuna chose to remain in the world of sumo as a trainer after his retirement from sport, having acquired Japanese nationality in 2019, a prerequisite for taking control of a “heya” (training and life center) within the Japanese Sumo Association (AJS).
He had already been invested for a long time in the discovery and training of new talents, launching in 2011 the “Hakuho Cup”, an annual tournament allowing children to compete under the eyes of the greatest of the Japanese discipline.
Several young recruits that he has taken under his wing have become high level “rikishi” (name given to wrestlers), who will accompany him in his new heya.
The great sumo champion (yokozuna) Hakuho after his final victory against Terunofuji in a tournament on July 18, 2021 in Nagoya / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Archives
He was not destined for sumo himself: his father, a Mongolian wrestling champion who became the first Olympic medalist in his country’s history at the 1968 Games, wanted to make him a judoka.
But young Munkhbat Davaajargal was more fascinated by the rikishi, whose photographs adorned the pages of sumo magazines he devoured.
He landed in Japan in 2000, at the age of 15, and his physique at the time (1.75 m for 62 kg) seemed so unpromising that at first he struggled to be recruited into a heya. No one wanted a kid “pale and skinny like me,” he wrote in his autobiography published in 2015.
The young man climbs the dohyo for the first time in 2001, under the wrestler name “Haku-ho”, whose second character, designating a bird from Chinese mythology, is borrowed from the name of the yokozuna Taiho, legend of the 1960s .
By dint of “keiko” – the grueling daily morning workout – and “chanko”, sumotoris’ pantagruelic meals, he improves his technique and sculpts his body, reaching 1.92 m for 158 kg, and climbs the divisions of the ranking. , until reaching the supreme rank of yokozuna in 2007.
His fierce rivalry with the other yokozuna of the time, his compatriot Asashoryu, then his unchallenged reign when he was forced to resign in 2010, left little room for Japanese wrestlers: none of the six annual tournaments will be won. by a “house” champion between January 2006 and January 2016.
Grand sumo champion (yokozuna) Hakuho in training on July 7, 2014 in Nagoya / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Archives
Hakuho’s domination is not to everyone’s taste: some of the fans and some members of the AJS, whose criticisms are widely relayed by the Japanese tabloids, reproach him for his brave attitude on the dohyo, his gestures of triumph when ‘he receives the bundles of envelopes given to the winner of a fight or his slaps to opponents, so many facts deemed unworthy of a yokozuna.
At the end of 2017, he was shouted at when he contested the outcome of a fight, an unprecedented attitude while the wrestlers were not supposed to show any emotion, let alone protest. “It is clear that he did not understand the spirit of Japanese sumo,” then tackled Mainoumi, a former wrestler turned television commentator.
With little more to prove and his body accumulating injuries, Hakuho had missed many tournaments in recent years, which had also earned him criticism and calls to order.
Alone at the top since the retirement of another yokozuna, Kakuryu, in March, Hakuho seemed to be waiting for the opportunity to pass the baton. The moment has arrived: another wrestler of Mongolian descent, Terunofuji, was crowned yokozuna in July and has just won the fall tournament.
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