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Friday, November 6, 1998 Published at 12:26 GMT


Heavyweight host a hit with viewers

Konishiki: A big hit on TV

Hawaiian-born Sumo wrestler Konishiki is cultivating a new image - as co-host of a prime-time Japanese talk show.

Konishiki is one of the biggest things to hit the Japanese entertainment world - whether he is plugging whiskey in TV ads or talking to guests on the show.

The first foreign-born Sumo wrestler to reach the prestigious rank of ozeki - the second-highest in the sport, he has lost 66lbs since giving up the strict - but enormous - diet of his former profession.

These days, Konishiki - who for more than a decade weighed well over a quarter of a ton - is cute, cuddly and as mellow as a Honolulu breeze.

Although Konishiki was one of Japan's most popular wrestlers winning three tournaments - another feat no foreigner had ever accomplished - the sport's governing body chose not to give him the top rank of "yokozuna".

When he was up for promotion in 1992, one member of the selection committee wrote that no foreigner had the "dignity" to achieve yokozuna.

He noted that Konishiki had cried after winning his first tournament, a no-no in the stoic world of sumo.

Soon after, Konishiki was quoted in both American and Japanese media as accusing Japan's Sumo Association of racism. The report sparked a volley of recriminations - cooling down only after Japan's prime minister urged calm.

Konishiki denies having ever made the racism allegations and nowadays strikes a deliberately conciliatory tone toward whatever prejudice he may encounter.

"If you try to fight it, you just drown in the current," he said.

The question of whether a foreigner should be elevated to yokozuna is now moot - another Hawaiian-born wrestler, Akebono, has held the rank since 1993.

And these days if the 34-year-old Konishiki is drowning in anything now, it's adoration.

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