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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 14:02 GMT
Sumo champ bows out
Takanohana (L) is forced out of the ring during a fight on 18 January
Injury finally caught up on the darling of sumo fans

One of Japan's most popular sportsmen, sumo grand champion Takanohana, has announced his retirement.

Takanohana, announcing his retirement
Takanohana's departure leaves no Japanese grand masters
His departure leaves the ancient Japanese sport dominated by foreign wrestlers.

For 15 years, Takanohana has been the idol of the sumo world.

Baby-faced but weighing in at 150kg (23st 9lb), he won his first tournament at the age of 19.

His popularity did much to revive the declining fortunes of an ancient sport.

With his older brother, Wakanohana, he sparked a sumo craze among young women.

Takanohana won 22 tournaments during his career, achieving the coveted title of Yokozuna, or Grand Champion.

Competition

The retirement comes as a surprise, announced in mid-tournament after he suffered a humiliating defeat to a lower-ranked wrestler.

Takanohana at the height of his powers in 1999
Takanohana succeeded in making sumo sexy
The 30-year-old has been suffering from a knee injury and missed a string of tournaments before returning to the ring last year.

His departure will come as a blow to the a sport which is struggling to compete with new-found enthusiasm for football and baseball.

Takanohana comes from a long line of sumo champions and the family's exploits have long been a staple of gossip writers and tabloid TV shows.

His departure leaves only one other Yokozuna, the Hawaiian-born Musashimaru.

The strongest challenger to acquire the title is also non-Japanese.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
01 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
26 May 99 | South Asia
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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