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New Yokozuna Kisenosato vows to get stronger

Sumo wrestler Kisenosato, center, holds up a congratulatory sea bream at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Jan. 25, 2017, after being promoted to yokozuna. (Mainichi)

Following a ceremony to elevate him to the rank of "yokozuna" grand champion, sumo wrestler Kisenosato told a news conference that he had vowed to "be diligent so as not to dishonor the yokozuna name."

"I will apply myself even more. I want to get stronger and repay all those who have supported me," the 30-year-old Kisenosato told reporters.

About his statement during the yokozuna ceremony, Kisenosato -- whose real name is Yutaka Hagiwara -- said that he "received many wonderful words, so I was at a bit of a loss. I just said what I was feeling now." Regarding what he said about his accomplishments, Kisenosato said with a smile that he "kind of clammed up," getting a laugh from those at the news conference venue.

It looked likely that Kisenosato would be made a yokozuna had he won any of last year's summer, Nagoya or autumn grand tournaments. However, though the ozeki racked up plenty of match wins, he never quite managed to be on top at the end of the tourneys.

In fact, fellow rikishi Kotoshogiku and Goeido won championships earlier than Kisenosato.

With 69 victories in 2016, Kisenosato registered the most wins of anyone in the makuuchi division in a single year. Nevertheless, he never managed to get his hands on a tournament cup.

As 2017 dawned, Kisenosato finally got his heart's desire: a tournament championship.

"For a long time, I was one victory short of winning a championship. It was frustrating, but I'm glad I pushed through it," commented Kisenosato. "I thought I had to not get flustered and just keep on with my style of sumo. I grew up a lot last year."

Kisenosato became a sumo wrestler at age 15, and was first coached by Tagonoura stablemaster Naruto (former Yokozuna Takanosato).

"If I hadn't met Naruto, I wouldn't be the person I am now," Kisenosato said, and recalled his old coach telling him that "you'll get to see a different view if you become a yokozuna."

"I may be able to see things now that I wasn't able to before," said Kisenosato. "I want to grow so I can see those things."

Kisenosato is the first Japan-born rikishi to be named a yokozuna in 19 years.

"I want to grow in a human way, and be the kind of yokozuna that earns respect," he declared.

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