Fittingly, just as his career has blossomed and is at its peak, Harumafuji gave roses to the people who have supported him ahead of his promotion ceremony on Sept. 26 to yokozuna, or grand champion, the pinnacle of his sport.
“I am here because of good fortune. I hope to continue working hard along with everyone,” the Mongolian sumo wrestler said.
Harumafuji suffered a major disappointment and embarrassment at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo in May. Going into the last day with a bleak record of 7 wins and 7 losses, Harumafuji beat yokozuna Hakuho, whose chances of winning the tournament had already faded, and managed to somehow end the tournament with more wins than losses in the 15-day tourney. But Harumafuji showed no signs of contentment in the locker room.
During the 22 tournaments he had competed in since being promoted to ozeki four years ago, the new yokozuna’s average number of wins per tournament was under 10. He also suffered from injuries caused in part by his relatively light weight for a sumo wrestler.
“I was stronger when I was competing under the ring name 'Ama,' ” Harumafuji once said.
After the May tourney, Harumafuji’s stablemaster, Isegahama, reminded Harumafuji of his determination to become yokozuna when he first came to Japan 12 years ago. “Are you satisfied with being an ozeki?” the stablemaster asked him.
Since then, Harumafuji has been working on finding a balance between maintaining his signature speed while gaining more body weight. He began drinking milk--which he had been avoiding due to digestion problems--and mixing protein in it. Every day, he drank one liter of his concoction, and gained 5 kilograms to weigh in at 133 kilograms at the start of the recent Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo.
After training, Harumafuji doesn’t eat "chankonabe," a Japanese kettle stew that is commonly eaten in vast quantities by sumo wrestlers as part of their weight-gain diet. He has been eating his 25-year-old wife’s Mongolian cooking at home. He got married almost two years ago.
In May, the wrestler got another reason to aim for sumo’s top ranking. His wife delivered their second daughter after the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament. Harumafuji promised himself that he would aim for yokozuna for the sake of his young family, and gave his second daughter a name that means “good fortune” in Mongolian.
It seems to have paid off. In the two consecutive tournaments after the birth of his second daughter, Harumafuji won both tourneys with a perfect 15-0 record, finally giving him the back-to-back tournament victories typically required for promotion to yokozuna.
The excitement has yet to come to an end. The new yokozuna has been attending parties and ceremonies to celebrate his accomplishment that culminated on Sept. 23 when he beat Hakuho in one of the most thrilling final-day bouts for the championship in years.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I feel like this is all a dream,” the lightweight yokozuna said. When he finds time for himself, he says he looks forward to drawing--a hobby he hasn’t gotten around to doing in a long time.
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