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Ozeki-in-waiting Takayasu aiming for sumo's greatest heights

Sumo wrestler Takayasu smiles at a news conference at the Tagonoura stable in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward on May 29, 2017, the day after the close of the May Grand Sumo Tournament. (Mainichi)
Takayasu's mother Bebelita, left, and father Eiji are seen in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward on May 28, 2017. (Mainichi)

After maintaining his winning ways for the past few tournaments, including posting a 11-4 win-loss record in the most recent May Grand Sumo Tournament, sekiwake Takayasu is on the verge of promotion to ozeki, the sport's second-highest rank.

    Promotion to ozeki requires a total of 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments, and the 27-year-old Takayasu entered the May tourney needing at least 10 victories to reach that mark. His 11th win on May 26 practically sealed his march up the sumo ranks.

    "The promotion to ozeki doesn't feel real, but I am very happy with the win-loss record I put up in the crucial tournament. I'm relieved that I got through the 15 days (of the tournament) without getting injured," the Tsuchiura, Chiba Prefecture native told reporters at a May 29 news conference at his Tagonoura stable in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward.

    Regarding the position of ozeki, Takayasu said, "At that level, you can't wrestle with a half-hearted attitude. You have to be exemplary."

    "I want to take a fair and even attitude (as an ozeki), and do truly impactful sumo," he added.

    Takayasu also made plain his future ambitions, saying, "I want to win championships. Because if I don't win championships, I can't go higher," referring to sumo's highest rank of yokozuna.

    Takayasu had run away from his stable many times after he joined as a rookie wrestler, but each time his father Eiji convinced him to go back and keep trying.

    "If you had told me when I entered sumo that I would become an ozeki, I think I'd have been very surprised," said the rikishi, whose full name is Akira Takayasu. Eiji, who watched Takayasu's bout on the closing day of the May tournament, and appeared afterwards with Takayasu's Filipino mother Bebelita, added, "I want him to be diligent and aim even higher."

    According to Eiji, the young Akira "didn't like studying very much, but loved sports far more than most." Takayasu joined a little league baseball team in fourth grade, and spent three years in his junior high school's baseball club, playing catcher. He thought that he would be behind the plate for a high school club as well, but changed course after Eiji strongly advised he take up sumo.

    By his third year of junior high, Takayasu was already over 180 centimeters tall and weighed more than 120 kilograms. Eiji looked at his son's body type and was taken by its similarity to that of fellow Ibaraki Prefecture native Kisenosato, who had been steadily climbing the sumo ranks (and is now a yokozuna). In another coincidence, Kisenosato had also played baseball for his junior high school.

    And so, sometime around summer in the teenaged Akira's third year at junior high school, Eiji took his son to visit stablemaster Naruto (former yokozuna Takanosato, d. 2011), who also trained Kisenosato.

    Naruto was won over by Takayasu's promising body type, and the boy was accepted into the stable in 2005 right after graduation from junior high. However, Takayasu couldn't bear the severe training, and ran away from the stable seven times, according to Eiji. Each time, the elder Takayasu escorted the boy back and asked for forgiveness, and each time he got it.

    Takayasu eventually came around, and made his juryo division debut at the 2010 Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. He was promoted to the makuuchi division for the 2011 Nagoya tourney, the first wrestler born in the Heisei era to do so.

    "As a parent watching this, it all looks very tough, but the only thing my son can do now is keep on trying," Eiji commented.

    Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku stated on May 28 that the association board would meet on May 31 to formally discuss Takayasu's promotion to ozeki.

    "I want to see Takayasu become synonymous with launching into a ramming attack," Hakkaku commented.

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