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The reluctant sumotori
Hiroyuki Koga never really wanted to become a sumo wrestler. He was quite content to stay in his hometown, maybe enter some judo tournaments or amateur-sumo, and work a regular job. That was more than 20 years ago. Now, sumo would not be quite the same without the 184 cm, 177 kg ozeki1 Kaio up on the dohyo, doing his thing.

Hiroyuki Koga was born in Nogata, Fukuoka, in the south of Japan, on July 24, 1972. He took up karate during 2nd grade in Primary School, doing rather well. In Highschool he turned to judo, entering in several competitions and winning more often than not. Amateur sumo was another one of his interests, and he won 6 championships in a row. But he didn't consider going into professional sumo. This was in 1987.

That same year Hiroyuki was convinced to come and see the wrestlers train at Kokonoe beya. He went, mostly because of the fact that the trainer is the famous yokozuna Chiyonofuji. Someting must have caught his interest, because six months later he became a pupil - not of Chiyonofuji, but of Tomozuna oyakata in Tomozuna beya.

In the beginning he fought under the shikona, or ring name, Koga2, but changed it to Kaio before he entered the juryo division in January 1992. He did not exactly breeze through the ranks below juryo, partly because he was not much into weight training - but he was into having a few drinks. This made his form unreliable, and his sumo uneven. He resented the chores a junior rikishi (sumo wrestler, lit. "strong man") must perform in the heya, and this may have contributed to the fact that he didn't really seem to like sumo very much until he made it to juryo.

Some of this changed once he became sekitori.3 He started enjoying sumo, training harder, and in May 1993 he was promoted to makuuchi. Exactly one year later he made sanyaku, the top of the makuuchi division. For almost three whole years he was a sekiwake (the third highest rank), consistently winning more than he was losing. The ozeki promotion was within his grasp - until he was injured in 1997.

The injury caused him to perform poorly for more than a year. He tried to come back, but had to withdraw several times, going up and down through the ranks like a yo-yo. It was not until 1999 that he finally seemed to get his sumo together. After a (second) knee injury in March 2000, he realized that he needed to do some serious weight training, and in September 2000 he was made ozeki.

Kaio has won the following special prizes:
  • 5 Emperor's Cup (for winning 5 basho)
  • 10 Shukun sho (Outstanding Performance Prize)
  • 5 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
  • 6 Kinboshi (Gold Star for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)

Kaio was plagued by injuries through his years as ozeki, but he was always able to retain his rank. He had problems with his biceps and his back, he had a broken thumb (after practising with one of the former yokozuna Asashoryu), and he had a shoulder problem. He was so very close to being promoted to yokozuna more than a few times, but seemed to lack that final push.

Kaio finally retired in 2011, after a very long and impressive career. The retirement ceremony - danpatsushiki will be held in the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on May 27th, 2012. I'll be missing his sumo in the future.

1: Ozeki is the second highest rank in sumo. Yokozuna is the highest.
2: It is not uncommon for a sumotori to change his shikona prior to being promoted to eg. juryo.
3: Once a wrestler is promoted to juryo (the second highest division in sumo. Makuuchi is the highest.) he is a sekitori. Making it to juryo is the first "barrier" a sumotori passes, on his way up. Ozeki is the next, "the Great Barrier"

My sources are legion, but I like www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng
www.uta.fi/~mm56085/Kaioprofile.html was a great help for this w/u.

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