TOKYO (Kyodo) — Despite the prolonged pandemic is creating endless uncertainty around this sport, three 19-year-olds are establishing themselves as the face of their Sumo wrestling generation.
He belongs to the Isegahama stable, failed to cap his high school athletic career with all the awards and recognition he had hoped for when spiking COVID-19 cases disrupted the sporting calendar in his senior year in 2020. His high school sumo team manager Daisuke Kurihara says:
Atamifuji could have earned the revered title of high school yokozuna, all the competitions used to determine the high school sumo champion were canceled.
I felt anxious about not being able to compete at all.
Instead of letting his emotions get the better of him, Atamifuji remained positive and constructive and requested his pro debut date be brought forward so he would not have to lose precious time in his prime.
His Hiryu High School in Shizuoka Prefecture traditionally had student wrestlers wait until January’s New Year grand tournament to make their pro debut. Still, Atamifuji wanted to get a head start after struggling to wrestle as a high school senior.
At first my school principal said no. But I pushed my way in.
Atamifuji made his pro debut in November 2020, two months earlier than scheduled. He will compete in the upcoming spring meet beginning March 13 in Osaka as a juryo wrestler, taking only eight meets to reach the salaried juryo ranks of the sport’s second-highest division, just below makuuchi.
Atamifuji is already the number one target for young rivals like Mukainakano, a Miyagino stable wrestler who entered the fourth-tier sandanme division in January and won the title.
We’re the same age so I admit there is some jealousy. I want to train hard and get stronger.
Mukainakano said his only hope during the pandemic pause was Tottori Johoku High School manager Tokiyoshi Ishiura’s motto that practice makes perfect, even when staying grounded and setting tangible goals in uncertain times seemed impossible.
Another sandanme wrestler is Kiryuko. He is the eldest son of former sumo elder Tokitsukaze. Since his debut in the lowest jonokuchi division last summer, the Tsunami stable wrestler posted a winning record in four straight tourneys.
Kiryuko said of the sport’s salaried elites who compete in the makuuchi and juryo divisions:
I have a goal of becoming a sekitori. I’m desperate to do well.
Becoming a sekitori brings with it a huge leap in status.
The pause in sports caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shook some budding athletes to their core, but others, like Atamifuji, Mukainakano, and Kiryuko, recognize the inherent value of their sport. Ishiura hopes these teenage wrestlers keep the sporting tradition going and create some magical moments in the dohyo, despite the pandemic gloom.
Each of them is trying hard in a time of crisis. They’re teaching us the importance of not giving up. I hope they enjoy success and bring excitement to sumo. That’s how they inspire the next generation