TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's premier sumo tournament will go ahead without one of its grand champions for the first time in five years, officials said on Friday, with Harumafuji sidelined by an ankle injury.
Harumafuji, one of two reigning "yokozuna", will skip the New Year tournament due to start at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday, the Japan Sumo Association said.
The 29-year-old Mongolian, who reached the sport's top rank in September 2012, twisted his right ankle and partially tore ligaments when he slipped while running in training in late December, his stablemaster Isegahama said.
"I really wanted to compete. But I would have worsened the condition if I compete with my left ankle as it is," Harumafuji, whose real name is Davaanyam Byambadorj, told reporters at his stable.
He won the last of the year's six, 15-day tournaments, held in Fukuoka in November.
It will be the first time for a yokozuna to miss a regular tournament since now-retired Asashoryu skipped one in November 2008.
Harumafuji's absence will leave fellow Mongolian Hakuho as the lone grand champion competing in the January basho (contest).
"I will train myself all over again, mentally and physically, and try to turn my frustration into power at the spring (March) tournament," said Harumafuji, whose 133kg frame makes him a fairly light sumo star.
Hakuho, 28, has set his sights high for the New Year after winning 27 tournaments in a 13-year career that has included six and a half years as yokozuna.
He is aiming to break the record of 32 career tournament wins set by the late home-grown yokozuna Taiho.