SI Vault
Edited by Craig Neff
December 11, 1989
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December 11, 1989


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In a feat of truly immense proportions, Hawaiian-born Sumo Wrestler Konishiki, weighing in at 488 pounds, last week won the Emperor's Cup, Japan's most prestigious sumo championship. The victory had the entire nation abuzz. Only one other foreigner had ever won the tournament: Jesse Kuhaulua, another Hawaiian, in 1972.

Strange as it sounds, the 25-year-old Konishiki (born Salevaa Atisanoe to Samoan parents) saw his triumph as a victory for thinness. After becoming a sumotori in 1982, he had eaten his way from 350 pounds up to 553—whopping even by sumo standards. By last December his knees were constantly aching, and he was losing so often that he was in danger of being demoted from the ranks of ozeki, the second-highest classification in the sport.

Fearing this, Konishiki took action. He checked into a Tokyo training center and went on a diet. "We tried to test his body fat," recalls Bob Beveridge, the American who runs the training center, "but we couldn't get the clamp around his arm. We tested his strength, and it was one-sixth that of a 60-year-old man."

Eating only fish and tomatoes, and swimming three times a week, Konishiki began to shed weight. His knees felt better, and his strength grew. By the start of the 15-day Emperor's Cup in Tokyo on Nov. 12, he had lost 65 pounds.

Sumo is a test of power and leverage. To win, a wrestler must push, slap or shove his opponent out of the 15-foot ring. Displaying surprising agility, Konishiki won 14 of 15 Cup matches, dispatching even Chiyonofuji, Japan's sumo darling, whose muscled 270-pound body sharply contrasted with Konishiki's folds of flab. After Konishiki beat 400-pound Kotogaume in the finals, a congratulatory telegram from President Bush arrived, and Konishiki was presented with prizes, among them 5,000 eels, which he presumably won't try to gulp down in a single sitting.

Konishiki wept. "My dream has come true," he said. He may become the first foreigner to attain the highest sumo designation, yokozuna.

Konishiki's victory capped a grand week for U.S. athletes in Japan. Earlier, former big leaguers Warren Cromartie and Ralph Bryant had been named MVPs of the two Japanese major leagues—the first time Americans have won both titles.

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