Sumo: Kotoshogiku ends decade-long victory drought for Japanese

Japanese sumo wrestler Kotoshogiku (right) throwing down fellow ozeki Goeido during the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo on Jan 24, 2016.
Japanese sumo wrestler Kotoshogiku (right) throwing down fellow ozeki Goeido during the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo on Jan 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO

TOKYO (AFP) - Kotoshogiku captured the Emperor's Cup at the New Year Grand Sumo tournament on Sunday (Jan 24), becoming the first Japanese-born winner for a decade.

The 31-year-old ranking ozeki - the second-highest level in Japan's national sport - shoved fellow ozeki Goeido down onto the ring to finish the 15-day tournament at 14-1.

In recent days, Kotoshogiku had fought off Hakuho and Harumafuji, two Mongolian yokozuna or grand champions, as well as his countryman Toyonoshima, all of whom ended at 12-3.

It was also Kotoshogiku's first career victory.

"I'm too happy for words," he said in an interview.

The triumph ended a decade-long victory drought for home-grown sumo wrestlers, who have been overpowered by foreign rivals in the nation's ancient sport.

No Japanese-born wrestler had gained the Cup since January 2006 when Tochiazuma won the same tournament.

The overseas dominance has sparked soul-searching among sumo traditionalists, who bemoan the influx of foreigners - particularly Mongolians.

A flood of hulking wrestlers - from destinations ranging from Hawaii and the Pacific islands to Eastern Europe and North Africa - has caused much hand-wringing among sumo officials.

The sport is struggling to match the glamour of baseball and football for young Japanese.

However many foreign grapplers, notably Hakuho, have earned praise from officials and local media for helping restore dignity to sumo, following a series of scandals that tarnished the reputation of a sport said to date back some 2,000 years.

Accusations of illegal betting and links with crime syndicates, drugs busts and the bullying death of a young wrestler rocked the closeted world of sumo in recent years.