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Le Monde du Sumo
N°1 - december 2003
(Click on the picture to download
the full french issue, with pictures,...)


Bastien Pourquié
translated by Jelena Macan
proofread by Moti Dichne

Rikishi that have retired


MUSASHIMARU

On the evening of the seventh day of last Kyushu Basho (2003), Yokozuna Musashimaru announced his retirement. He can look back on an exceptional career.

A very quick start

Musashimaru Koyo was born on May 2nd 1971 in the Samoan Isles, but grew up in Hawaii. His imposing build quickly drew notice to him. In 1989 he was recruited by Musashigawa Oyakata, former Yokozuna Mienoumi, and made his official debut in September of the same year. His progress was lightening quick- in a space of only ten tournaments he made it to the Juryo division. His style was based above all on the power granted to him by his one meter ninety-two frame carrying a hundred and fifty kilos. He worked extremely hard in order to catch up with three other great hopes: Takahanada, Wakahanada and his compatriot and rival Akebono.
His passage through Juryo was equally meteoritic: two tournaments! In November 1991 he found himself in Makuuchi. He quickly found his place in Sanyaku (May 1992), and the next stage was to become an Ozeki. After nine consecutive tournaments ranked as Sekiwake, the third highest rank, he finally passed the bar at the end of Hatsu Basho 1994, and was promoted to Ozeki at the same time as Takanonami. At Nagoya Basho 1994 he won the first yusho of his career, with a perfect score of 15 victories in as many bouts. It would turn out to be the only zensho yusho of his career. More than ever, he seemed to be a potential Yokozuna.


An eternal Ozeki?

Yet, the tournaments passed, and there was no promotion for Musashimaru. Not because his performances as Ozeki were weak, but because he was barred by the two Yokozuna Akebono and above all Takanohana who strung up yusho like pearls. In November of 1996, Musashimaru won the second yusho of his career with a mediocre score of 11-4, after a historic five-rikishi playoff. During the Hatsu Basho 1998, he profited from the bad form of Takanohana and Akebono to notch up his third title. During that same year, Wakanohana III stole his thunder, and became Yokozuna. At the end of 1998, aged 27, Musashimaru seemed destined to the role of an eternal Ozeki, like his old rival Takanonami.

The crowning moment

1999: Musashimaru’s year! In spite of a pitiful 8-7 in January, he went on to win the Haru and Natsu Basho one after the other, and was thus promoted to Yokozuna, the 67th in history. When the celebrations of the promotion to the highest rank had subsided, he went on to win the final two tournaments of the year. Four titles in one year! In one year, Musashimaru gained a new dimension. His style did not change remarkably, but his confidence allowed him to move mountains. And what is more, he was the number one rikishi of the most powerful heya of the time.
The next year he suffered an injury twice, but in September he successfully defended his title from the last year. After Akebono’s retirement in January of 2001, Musashimaru strung up second positions behind rejuvenated Takanohana and flamboyant Kaio. He returned to the path of success only for Kyushu Basho 2001. In 2002, he notched up consecutive Haru and Natsu Basho yusho. Then, in September, after more than a year of absence, Takanohana made his comeback. The Aki Basho awoke the passions, and the two Yokozuna met on senshuraku for the decisive bout where Musashimaru pushed out the legendary Yokozuna with a yorikiri. In this manner he won his twelfth yusho, the greatest of his career according to his own words, and with that achievement passed Akebono.


A fateful injury

Even though Aki Basho of 2002 is one of his career’s high points, it was then that Musashimaru injured his left wrist. Nevertheless, he took part in Kyushu Basho and on the fifth day, against Takanonami, he injured himself more gravely. This injury would keep him away from the ring until Nagoya Basho 2003. His return was far from fruitful, and he withdrew from the tournament on the evening of itsuka-me (the fifth day). He did not participate in the September tournament and returned to the ring in Fukuoka, in November. He was unable to make use of his left hand though, and his results showed that. After four losses in the first seven days of the tournament, he decided to withdraw for good. If Musashimaru did spend a long time under the shadows of Takanohana and Akebono, that doesn’t make him any less a great Sumo figure of the 1990s.

The exceptional performances

An exceptional build distinguished Musashimaru above all. With 1.92m for 237 kg at the maximum of his weight, he became the heaviest Yokozuna in history. Preferring efficiency to the beauty of movement, he developed the most powerful oshi-zumo. However, one must not underestimate Musashimaru’s other qualities. He possessed an amazing balance, mastered body-to-body wrestling to perfection, and was endowed with phenomenal power. In fourteen years he notched up twelve tournament titles, two gino-sho (technique prize), one kanto-sho (fighting spirit prize) and one shukun-sho (exceptional performance prize) and he was second behind the yusho winner 14 times. In his 73 tournaments in Makuuchi division, he had 706 victories (4th ever), suffered 226 losses and was absent from 115 bouts.
Musashimaru was the last representative of those massively heavy giants coming from the Pacific isles. Between 1968 and 2003, three generations of them succeeded one another in the highest division. Though Akebono and Musashimaru may have not reached the popularity of their elders Takamiyama and Konishiki, all four have remained in the popular imagery of Westerners, justly or not, as the archetypal wrestlers of this fabulous sport. With their retirement, a page in Sumo history was closed.


SENTORYU

The former sekitori Sentoryu, after battling bitterly in the Makushita division during this Kyushu Basho 2003, has announced the end of his career. Let us review almost fifteen years of his Sumo career, during which he has shown rare courage and love for his profession.

A slow rise towards becoming a Sekitori

Sentoryu, his real name Henry Armstrong Miller, was born July 16th 1969 in St. Louis, Missouri, of a Japanese mother and an American father. He joined Tomozuna-beya, run by former Sekiwake Kaiki, in 1988, and made his official debut in July of the same year, some months after the debut of a very promising comrade: Koga, future Kaio.
And yet, contrary to his friend, Sentoryu climbed slowly through the ranks. In spite of his average height (1.76 m) he built a robust and muscled body, and developed rough oshi-zumo. In November 1994 he reached his goal: to become a Sekitori. After 39 tournaments of patience, he reaped the fruit of his hard labours.


“The harder the fall”

And yet, the adventure lasted only two tournaments. After a 6-9 result in January of 1995, Sentoryu was demoted, and in spite of his relentless and repeated efforts, he got bogged down in Makushita and had to start from zero again. “The harder the fall”, says the proverb. It was rarely so true as in case of Sentoryu, having reached his goal only to lose it again, maybe for good. But the rikishi held on, no matter the cost, trying to forget the cruel disappointment.
Four years of purgatory passed before he could bathe again in the glow of the Juryo division. In May 1999 he was ranked Makushita 9, where he completed a brilliant performance by winning the divisional yusho with a perfect score of 7 victories in as many bouts. This excellent performance allowed him to rejoin the Juryo division. At 30 years of age, it appears that he finally has passed that bar. At the end of the year 1999, he boasted solid performances, notably thanks to his weight that stabilised at around 140 kilos.
During the Haru Basho 2000, he found himself again in a dangerous situation. Ranked at Juryo 11, the smallest mistake could condemn him to wrestle in Makushita again. It was then that he pulled off a splendid performance and won 13 bouts. Not only did that save his position in Juryo, but he found himself, in May, at the gates of the Makuuchi division. At the end of the first week, he only had two paltry wins against six losses to show.


A lightning show to reach Makuuchi

Fiercely inspired, Sentoryu then realised the feat of winning seven victories in eight days, including notable victories against Terao and Aogiyama. He achieved kachi-koshi, and touched the Holy Grail: the Makuuchi division! After 72 Basho, in other words a career of twelve years, Sentoryu proved that bravery and denial can make you move mountains.
Unfortunately, he only remained in Makuuchi for two tournaments. By the end of 2000, he fell back to Juryo. After Nagoya Basho 2001, even though he was only a Juryo rikishi, his friend Kaio honoured him by having him at his side for the Ozeki’s triumphal yusho parade. In January 2002, Sentoryu tasted Makuuchi for one last time.


Dignity until the very end

During that tournament he was injured, and dropped again. The injury was serious, but Sentoryu wasn’t awarded a kosho status and that made him lose his Sekitori status. He fell to the very depths of Makushita. After almost three years of Sekitori status, the fall again was very hard.
At the age of 33, for the love of his profession, he rose up again. Coming to terms with wrestling at the very bottom of the third division, he advanced progressively thanks to two consecutive good tournaments (Kyushu Basho 2002 and Hatsu Basho 2003) and in March 2003 he found himself back at Makushita 9. From there he strung together three consecutive kachi-koshi and rejoined the Juryo division. But at 34 years of age, his body betrayed him again. He suffered a shoulder injury and finished that tournament with a weak 4-11. The press again brought up his retirement, but he attempted one last salvation of his honour in November. His attempt ended with a make-koshi. After the final loss on senshuraku, Sentoryu decided to end his career.


The end of an admirable wrestler

Sentoryu left his mark in Sumo in many ways. First of all, he was the first Black American to become a sekitori. But above all, throughout his career he exhibited admirable fighting spirit and will, so intensely and so well that the mere mention of his name sparks admiration in Sumo experts. The love of his profession, his relentless attempts at climbing back up despite all the disappointments and injuries, those are the main reasons that explain the fascination caused by this rikishi, this man.

AOGIYAMA

During the ninth day of Kyushu Basho 2003, the former Maegashira 1 Aogiyama decided to end his career. Two days after Musashimaru, another Sumo figure quits!

Difficult beginnings

Aogiyama Hideki was born on February 18th 1970 in Hikone, Shiga prefecture. He joined the prestigious Tokitsukaze-beya run by the former Ozeki Yutakayama, at a very young age. He had his dohyo debut in March 1985. Quite a promising rikishi, he reached the Juryo division for the first time in November 1991. In the space of four months he found himself back in Makushita, but returned to the Sekitori ranks for Natsu Basho 1992.
In January 1993, he won the Juryo yusho and was promoted to Makuuchi for March. Nevertheless, he quickly fell back to the second division. Despite some sporadic returns to Makuuchi, Aogiyama did not manage to remain in the highest division. After a solid start in the year 1995, in November he returned to Makuuchi for the fourth time.


Several years among the elite

Aogiyama thus passed the bar, and settled in the top division for nearly five years. Still, he didn’t manage to win regularly against the best and so stayed in the area of the soft underbelly of hiramaku. His tsuki-based style showed its limits against experienced opponents who mastered a superior technique. Moreover, his meter and eighty-two and hundred forty-five kilos were nothing extraordinary for that time.
Nevertheless, during Nagoya Basho 1997 he won a kinboshi at the expense of the monster Takanohana. He went on to win a second one against the same Yokozuna during the Haru Basho 1998, the tournament in which he managed his best performance with a splendid 11-4, accompanied with his only kanto-sho.


Injuries get the better of him

At the start of 2000, Aogiyama was overwhelmed by injuries and found himself back in Juryo in September of that year. Since then, in spite of three re-promotions to Makuuchi, he never managed to remain there. His last visit, this year (2003), was a sort of a swan’s song for this 33-year-old veteran. During the Kyushu Basho 2003, after eight losses in eight days, Aogiyama quit for good.



Download Le Monde du Sumo n°1 to get more information on this subject:
Musashimaru's career summing-up.
(Understandable without speeking French)