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Sumo: New champ Tamawashi vows to keep fighting age, young wrestlers

Mongolian sekiwake Tamawashi poses at his stable in Tokyo on Jan. 28, 2019, holding a newspaper covering his New Year Grand Sumo Tournament win the previous day. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Late-blooming sekiwake Tamawashi, who won his first title at the age of 34 in the just-ended New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, said Monday he does not intend to slow down his career despite taking his time to claim the Emperor's Cup.

A day after winning the 15-day championship at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan with a 13-2 record, the Mongolian said he will shatter the young athlete ideal by fighting aging and working out to stay younger for longer.

"I have to be young. I have to train as hard (as the younger wrestlers)," said Tamawashi, who became the second-oldest wrestler in sumo's current six-basho format to win his first championship.

"I still can't believe it. (The silver trophy) was very heavy. Dreams are meant to come true," he told a press conference at his Kataonami stable. "I want to continue fighting past the age of 40."

Tamawashi, at sumo's third highest rank, capitalized on the absence of three top-ranked yokozuna to secure victory by beating fan-favorite maegashira Endo on Sunday, the same day his wife gave birth to their second child.

"My wife worked hard so I felt I had to, too," he said.

He finished two wins ahead of fellow sekiwake Takakeisho. Takakeisho was gunning for his second straight title following his feat at the Kyushu meet in November, where he became the sixth-youngest wrestler to clinch a first career championship at the age of 22 years and three months.

When asked about his expectations for promotion to ozeki, Tamawashi, who only got two and a half hours of sleep, humbly said, "I'm taking one bout at a time trusting that results will come without looking at what might come later."

Tamawashi's journey to championship was not all smooth sailing.

Having never missed a tournament since his 2004 debut, Tamawashi's streak of 1,151 consecutive bouts is the longest among active wrestlers. However, he needed to fight in 38 grand tournaments in the top-flight makuuchi division before earning promotion to the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna, the longest run ever needed for a foreign wrestler.

Still, quitting was never an option, and he had his reasons.

"Never," Tamawashi said when asked whether he had ever considered quitting sumo.

"There are people who have always been supportive of me. It would be sinful to betray them," he said.

Tamawashi is cognizant of the next generation of wrestlers, not as threats but as inspirations as he eyes continued success.

"I'm in awe when I see the way others approach sumo. Like them, I want to put on a sumo performance that allows people to have fun and feel joy," he said.

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