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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
First foreign Sumo grand champion retires
US Ambassador Howard Baker uses a scissors to cut part of Akebono's topknot
US Ambassador Baker cuts part of Akebono's topknot
Akebono, Japan's first foreign sumo grand champion, or yokozuna, has retired.

In a traditional ceremony, an emotional Akebono (born in Hawaii as Chad Rowan) had his topknot gradually cut off, several strands at a time, by 320 friends and former rivals.

Sumo champion Takanohana cuts off part of retired champion Akebono
Former rival Takanohana also participated
Some 11,000 spectators attended the ceremony at the Ryogoku Sumo Arena in Tokyo.

"I want to thank everyone for coming today," the 32-year-old Akebono said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"I feel sad, much more than I had expected. I feel my head is lighter. I think it is not the weight off my hair but the weight off my responsibility."

Friends and rivals

Among the friends and supporters who participated in the hair-snipping ceremony were US Ambassador Howard Baker, fellow-Hawaiian sumo champion Konishiki (born Salevaa Atisanoe) and former rival champion Takanohana.

Akebono cries as his stable master, Daigoro Azumazeki, chops off his topknot
Akebono could not hide his emotions
The last cut, delivered by sumo stable master Azumazeki, completely removed the topknot.

Akebono, who is 2.03m (six feet six inches) tall and weighs 220kg (484 pounds), could not hold back his tears.

He was forced to retire in January because of repeated knee injuries.

He entered Japan's world of sumo in 1988, when he joined the stable run by another former Hawaiian wrestler, Takamiyama (born Jesse Kuhaulua).

First foreigner

In 1993, after winning four of that year's six championships, he was promoted to the rank of yokozuna - the 64th in the history of modern sumo, and the first foreigner to receive the title.

Akebono and his son
Akebono shows off his son
He became a naturalised Japanese citizen in 1996.

Sumo, a 2,000-year-old sport and an art form linked to Shinto tradition, is tremendously popular in Japan.

Akebono has not yet announced his immediate plans, but he has indicated that he might want to become a sumo stable master in the future.

See also:

22 Jan 01 | Other Sports
Sumo great Akebono retires
19 Nov 00 | Other Sports
Akebono claims 11th title
04 May 01 | Funny Old Game
Women weigh in for sumo
23 Jul 00 | Other Sports
Akebono wins despite last day upset
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