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1991: Sumos size up Royal Albert Hall
The first Sumo wrestling tournament ever to be staged outside Japan in the sport's 1500 year history has begun.

The event is taking place in the UK in London's world famous Royal Albert Hall, as part of the ongoing Japan Festival.

Contestants in the tournament are from Japan's elite sumo league, Makunouchi.

Japan's Sumo Kyokai (Association) says the tournament is an opportunity to present the sport to a wider foreign audience.

Foreign food has been good but we get one meal too much
Konishiki, visiting sumo player

Spectators are paying in excess of 100 to get some of the best seats in the Hall which has a capacity of 5000 and is already nearly a sell-out.

Sumo in Japan is comprised of around 800 full-time wrestlers divided into seven divisions. A tournament is called a Basho and lasts for 15 days.

The UK version has been shortened to a five-day contest. Each wrestler will fight once a day leading to the likelihood of a final day play-off.

But despite the shortened version, organisers promise the 2 million tournament will be as authentic and true to the Sumo spirit as possible.

Clay for the sacred dohyo (wrestling ring) has been specially selected from a quarry near Heathrow, while a huge drum and the ceremonial canopy, the yokata, have been shipped in from Japan.

The top 40 rikishi (wrestlers) are comprised of younger players and old masters, including the two yokozuma (grand champions) - Asahifuji and Hokutuomi.

But all eyes are on the heaviest sumo wrestler ever, and also a foreigner, Hawaiian Konishiki, who weighs 37.5 stone (238.25 kg).

Asked about his thoughts on England since arriving, Konishiki, nicknamed the Dump Truck, joked about the food:

"Usually in Japan we don't have breakfast...Foreign food has been good but we get one meal too much I guess."

Given their extreme weight and proportions, the wrestlers' accommodation at the Royal Garden Hotel has undergone certain modifications.

The management has weight-tested the lavatories, reinforced the beds and chairs and fitted special detachable showers - the original showers have too small a spray to cover the sportsmen's bodies.

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Sumo cermonial banners hanging from the Royal Albert Hall
Organisers want an authentic tournament


In Context
The Japan Festival Trophy was won by Hokutoumi, the reigning champion. Fighting Spirit prize went to Terao.

In Sumo, the aim of each match is simple: The winner must push his opponent out of the ring or onto the floor, but there are many different moves.

Sumo, while a sport, is also considered an art form with religious origins.

Champions eat three or four times that of an average man - over 7000 calories a day, compared to the male average of 2700.

A typical wrestler's lifespan used to be only 45 years, but the sport encourages a more health-conscious diet today. Wrestlers now live beyond 60.

In 1991 no foreign wrestler had been awarded yokozuna status. In 1993 Akebono, another Hawaiian, became the first.


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