Akebono, sumos first foreign-born grand champion, retires
By Eric Talmadge/AP
Grand champion Akebono performs the ring-entrance ritual during the annual New Years dedication at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, in this Jan. 8, 1997 file photo. Photo by Associated Press.
Hawaii-born Akebono, the first foreign wrestler to reach sumo wrestlings highest rank, is quitting.
The 6-foot-9, 510-pounder, formerly Chad Rowan, informed the Japan Sumo Association on Monday that he intends to retire.
My body doesnt listen anymore, the wrestler said at a news conference at Tokyos Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena. This wasnt an easy decision. I really agonized over it.
Akebono sat out the New Years Grand Sumo Tournament, which ended on Jan. 21, because of chronic knee problems.
Reports of his expected retirement were carried on the front pages of two major Japanese newspapers, the Asahi and the Yomiuri, on Jan. 22.
The 31-year-old Akebonos retirement marks the end of a pioneering and very successful career.
Akebono originally from Honolulu and a naturalized Japanese citizen made his sumo debut in 1988, and has won 11 tournaments, including the final tournament last year. He has been ranked as grand champion for 48 tournaments, the fourth-longest tenure ever.
By becoming a grand champion, Ive done what the average person doesnt have a chance to do, Akebono said. Im so thankful to everyone.
Though Akebonos rise through the ranks of sumo was one of the fastest in the history of the tradition-laden sport, many purists opposed his promotion to its top rank of yokozuna, or grand champion.
Many in Japan initially opposed Akebonos promotion, in March 1993, because they thought only Japanese-born wrestlers should be considered. There were also concerns that the sport would be overrun by bigger, stronger foreigners.
But Akebono has silenced most of his critics, and another Hawaii-born wrestler, Musashimaru, later joined him as grand champion.
In sumo, two wrestlers try to force each other out of an elevated clay ring. There are six sumo tournaments each year. Wrestlers face a different opponent on each of the tournaments 15 days, and the one with the fewest losses is declared the winner.