Takerufuji Endures Ankle Injury To Deliver Memorable Match; Secures Historic Win

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takerufuji holds a paper on which he handwrote, “Memory rather than records.”

OSAKA — Takerufuji became the first wrestler in 110 years to win a grand sumo tournament championship in his makuuchi division debut when he captured the title at the Spring tournament in Osaka on Sunday. The 24-year-old from Aomori Prefecture injured his right ankle in a match the day before he was to receive the trophy. Despite concerns over his ability to compete on the final day at EDION Arena Osaka, he claimed the victory.

“Standing in the sumo ring for 15 days is the duty of a wrestler. While records hold their significance, I was driven by a desire to create at least one unforgettable moment for everyone,” Takerufuji said in the victory interview on Sunday. At a press conference the following day, he said, “Achieving this much was beyond my wildest dreams. I’m glad I went through those 15 days.”

The moment Takerufuji overpowered and defeated Gonoyama, 25, to secure the championship, a bright smile came to his face. In the preparation room, to which he returned while dragging his injured right ankle, he reflected, “I won it through sheer willpower. I thought I had no choice but to go for it.”

Takerufuji injured his right ankle in a match where he lost to former ozeki Asanoyama, 30, on the 14th day of the tournament. He was carried out in a wheelchair and immediately transported by ambulance to hospital. Upon returning to his lodgings, he initially told his stablemaster Isegahama, the former yokozuna Asahifuji, that competing the following day would be difficult.

However, yokozuna Terunofuji, 32, whom Takerufuji respects and who belongs to the same stable, encouraged him: “You can do it.” Those words change his mind.

“I didn’t want to waste what I’d built up. I would’ve regretted not participating [in the final day of the tournament] for the rest of my life,” Takerufuji said.

Takerufuji describes the yokozuna — an alumnus of Tottori Johoku High School in Tottori like Takerufuji — as someone he admires. Terunofuji once dropped to the jonidan division, the second lowest of the sport’s six tiers, due to serious injuries to both knees. However, he was promoted to yokozuna after that. Comparing himself with this senior alumnus, Takerufuji once said, “If I train under him, I can’t go wrong.” Each piece of advice from the yokozuna became the driving force behind his remarkable achievement.

Takerufuji, whose hair has not grown long enough to tie into a full topknot due to his rapid rise through the sumo ranks, savored his joy but also noted: “What comes next is important. I must build a body that doesn’t get injured.”

For this rising star, there are lofty heights yet to be aimed for.

Family overjoyed

The family and relatives of Takerufuji watched the decisive big bout intently as if they were praying.

His mother, Momoko Ishioka, 47, hurried to Osaka on Sunday morning and watched his son fight it out on TV near the venue. When he won, she choked with tears and said, “I couldn’t stop shaking because he became No. 1 in the country for the first time in such a style.”

His grandfather Hiromi Kudo and grandmother Yoko Kudo cheered their grandson on TV at the lobby of the city hall in Goshogawara, Aomori Prefecture, together with about 160 people, many of them local residents. Takerufuji comes from the city.

When he was going to a nursery school, he started sumo because of his grandfather, a strong amateur sumo wrestler. Since the boy’s parents were busy, the grandfather took him to a sumo dojo training hall in the neighborhood almost every day. When there was a local sumo tournament, the grandmother would come with homemade boxed lunch.

“I couldn’t sleep well last night because of his injury yesterday, but he put up a great fight. It’s the best sumo,” his grandfather said happily after Takerufuji beat Gonoyama.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takerufuji’s grandparents — Hiromi Kudo, left, and Yoko Kudo — react at the victory of their grandson in Goshogawara, Aomori Prefecture, on Sunday.