TOKYO - Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto won his first Emperor's Cup trophy Sunday as the New Year's tournament closed, only the second tournament win by a European in the traditional Japanese martial art.
The 27-year-old Ozeki, the second highest ranking in sumo, finished the 15-day tournament with 14 wins and one loss, toppled only by grand champion Hakuho in the final bout on Sunday. "I gave all I had until the end," the wrestler, whose real name is Kaido Hoovelson, said in a tearful nationally televised interview at the National Sumo Stadium in Tokyo.
It was Baruto's first victory in sumo and only the second tournament win by a European, following a 2008 victory by Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu, whose real name is Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov. The sport has become increasingly dominated by non-Japanese with Baruto the ninth foreigner to win a tournament.
The Estonian, who came to Japan in 2004, thanked his family and fans, as his mother and wife looked on in the packed 10,000-seat arena. "It has not been a long time, but not short either. But this is the path I have chosen. I am glad that I made the choice," he said. Baruto secured his first tournament victory Friday when he stood undefeated with two bouts remaining, while Hakuho suffered his third loss. Sumo is still running to recover its popularity after its reputation took a battering over long-standing allegations over bout-rigging.
A total of 22 wrestlers and one stablemaster resigned in the wake of the revelations, which led to a six-month hiatus in tournaments.
It was the latest in a series of debilitating blows to the tradition-bound sport, which has been shaken by scandals including illegal drug use and brutal training methods that resulted in the death of a teenage apprentice. Allegations that some wrestlers and stablemasters have ties to organised crime groups continue to dog the sport.