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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Sumo wrestler Akeboni Taro dies young !

A decade or so ago TATA SUMO ruled the roads – just as comedian Vivek would say,  ‘it was a tough vehicle for rough villains’ as many of them would only hang on the vehicle (and not sit inside) in Tamil movies. 

Brands are more than just a name or a logo; they embody a story and a legacy. Behind every brand, there is a rich history and a unique set of circumstances that have shaped its identity and contributed to its success.   It was a great hit yet Tata Motors retired the iconic Tata Sumo in 2019 after a long 25 years.

Then there is this game with this name !  -  ‘Sumo wrestling’.  Sumo (lit. "striking one another") is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet (usually by throwing, shoving or pushing him down). The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. It is considered a gendai budō, which refers to modern Japanese martial art, but the sport has a history spanning many centuries. Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from Shinto.

Life as a wrestler is highly regimented, with rules regulated by the Japan Sumo Association. Most sumo wrestlers are required to live in communal sumo training stables, known in Japanese as heya, where all aspects of their daily lives—from meals to their manner of dress—are dictated by strict tradition.  .. .. not a post on the game but tribute  Akebono, the first foreign wrestler to reach the pinnacle of the sport of sumo, who has died aged 54.

The wrestler, who was born Chad Rowan in Hawaii, is regarded as a pioneer after he broke down cultural barriers in the centuries-old sport to become the first non-Japanese yokozuna grand champion in 1993.He won 11 major sumo tournaments, which are held six times a year, before retiring in 2001 and turning to K-1 and professional wrestling. He was runner-up at 13 other tournaments, despite being plagued by injury.

Akebono Tarō was an American-born Japanese former professional sumo wrestler and professional wrestler from Waimānalo, Hawaii, who rose swiftly up the rankings.  One of the tallest and heaviest wrestlers ever, Akebono's rivalry with the young Japanese hopefuls, Takanohana and Wakanohana, was a big factor in the increased popularity of sumo at tournament venues and on TV in the early 1990s.  Akebono became a Japanese citizen in 1996, and after retiring in 2001 he worked as a coach at Azumazeki stable before leaving the Sumo Association in 2003. He passed away of heart failure in 2024, less than a month before his 55th birthday.

Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.He said in a post on X that the wrestler, who was 203cm (6ft 8in) tall and weighed 233kg (514lb) at his heaviest, was “a giant in the world of sumo, a proud Hawaiian and a bridge between the United States and Japan.“When Akebono became the first-ever foreign-born grand champion … he opened the door for other foreign wrestlers to find success in the sport. Akebono is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.

In case you are wondering why Sumo wrestlers look so heavy weights! – a couple of years back, Japan’s flagship carrier was  forced to lay on an extra flight at short notice after concluding that two of its planes were at risk of exceeding their weight limits. The culprit was not excess baggage, however, but a passenger list that included some of the country’s heaviest men.The sumo rikishi were scheduled to take Boeing 737-800 flights from Haneda airport in Tokyo and Itami airport in Osaka to Amami Oshima, an island in the far south, where they were due to compete in a sports festival, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.Concern over fuel capacity emerged when staff learned late that the passenger lists included sumo wrestlers, whom they estimated weighed an average of 120kg – far more than the 70kg average, the Yomiuri said.The Amami airport runway would have struggled to accommodate a larger aircraft, the newspaper said, forcing JAL to lay on an additional service for 27 wrestlers, including 14 who had to fly from Itami to Haneda to board the special flight.

The Tata Sumo, a bull of a car, with its innovative design and adaptability, resonated wonderfully with the Indian market. Its introduction marked a new era for Tata Motors, solidifying its position as a manufacturer capable of delivering vehicles that met the diverse demands of Indian consumers. The car was not associated with Sumo wrestling but with Mr Sumant Moolgaonkar  who had his  early education in Pune and then pursued a degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP). He later joined the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company(TELCO) now called Tata Motors Industries as Director in charge and later became Vice-Chairman, Managing Director, and Chairman of TELCO. His work was so seminal in the organisation that he is referred to as the architect of TELCO. In honouring him, Tata Motors named their multipurpose vehicle Sumo as a fitting tribute. 

With regards – S Sampathkumar
11th April 2024. 

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