Taking deep breaths, Tochinoshin nervously awaited the Japan Sumo Association messenger that would convey his promotion to grand sumo's second-highest rank of ozeki.
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True to his honest personality, the new ozeki replied in his verbal vow, "I will follow the stablemaster's teachings and work hard in training so I can be a role model for other wrestlers." But after the ceremony was over and the nervousness melted away, his lovable blue eyes looked off into the distance.
Tochinoshin, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze, is the third European to be promoted to ozeki after Kotooshu of Bulgaria, and Baruto of Estonia, and the first ozeki to hail from the former Soviet state of Georgia.
From a young age, he would help his family make wine. "I have a big body, so when I would step on the grapes, a lot of juice would come out. When you stomp like that for two to three hours, your legs get swollen, but it was also good training for my entire lower body," he said.
With a passion for cooking, Tochinoshin still enjoys preparing dishes from his homeland. Married to a childhood friend, the couple welcomed their first child, a girl, last November.
The Georgian joined the Kasugano sumo stable at age 18. Endowed with an ideal body type and extraordinary strength, he flourished. At the 2010 Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, he was promoted to the rank of komusubi, making his way into sumo's "makuuchi" upper division. However, during the 2013 Nagoya tournament, he ruptured ligaments in his right knee as well as suffering other serious injuries. Falling to the rank of 55th in the "makushita" division below the "makuuchi" and "juryo" divisions, Tochinoshin considered even retiring from sumo altogether.
"But, it turned out to be a good thing that I fell in the ranks," he said.
After rehabilitating his lower body, he has reached the rank of ozeki at the age of 30. Since the Showa era, Tochinoshin is only the second wrestler after Kotokaze to reach the rank of ozeki following a fall from the makuuchi division to the makushita division. It is precisely because of his stumble that he became stronger.
Alongside those holding the highest sumo rank of yokozuna, ozeki are thought of as the representatives of professional sumo, and Tochinoshin said, "I think it's going to be tough. I have to work even harder."
At this year's Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, Tochinoshin, standing at 191 centimeters and weighing 169 kilograms, faced each of his opponents head-on without cunningly shifting his starting posture or dealing slaps to the opponent's neck or face at the beginning of the bout even once. Tochinoshin has already positioned himself to take on the weight of traditional sumo values on his wide shoulders.
(Japanese original by Hideaki Takahashi, Sports Department)