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Sumo Grand Champion Hakuho Will Retire At 36, Citing His Age And Injuries

Sumo Grand Champion Hakuho performs Dohyo-iri, the ring-entering ceremony, during the Grand Sumo Tournament at the Himeji Chuo Gymnasium, in March 2015, in Himeji, Japan.
Buddhika Weerasinghe
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Sumo Grand Champion Hakuho performs Dohyo-iri, the ring-entering ceremony, during the Grand Sumo Tournament at the Himeji Chuo Gymnasium, in March 2015, in Himeji, Japan.

After a record-breaking two-decade career in the ring, Hakuho, sumo's greatest champion, says he will retire at age 36, citing injuries and his advancing age.

The Mongolian-born wrestler, whose birth name is Monkhbatyn Davaajargal, announced his decision to retire to the Japan Sumo Association on Monday, according to Hironori Yano, the head of the association's Yokozuna Deliberation Council.

Over his career, Hakuho, who stands over 6 feet, 3 inches tall (1.92 meters) and weighs just over 340 pounds (155 kilograms), claimed "virtually every record of note, and set marks in Japan's national sport that will likely remain untouched for decades," according to Kyodo news agency.

However, despite a career that saw a record 45 grand sumo tournament titles, Hakuho had been struggling in recent months during training, Kyodo says.

Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic had caused him to miss six consecutive tournaments, but he returned to the ring in July, winning the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament with a perfect 15-0 record. However, he and 17 other wrestlers in his Miyagino stable were forced to bow out of the fall tournament due to multiple coronavirus infections in the stable, the news agency says.

Hakuho, whose father won silver in freestyle wrestling at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, began his career at the age of 15. He quickly rose through the ranks, winning a second-tier title within three years and reaching the top division in sumo only a few months later, according to The Japan Times. Following his promotion in 2007 to yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo, Hakuho began a nine-year streak in which he won or finished second in 49 of 52 tournaments, the newspaper says.

Since becoming a Japanese citizen in 2019, Hakuho is eligible to run his own stable. But his immediate plans are to remain at Miyagino as an instructor of younger wrestlers, according to Kyodo.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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