National

Sumo great Kitanoumi dies at 62

Kyodo

The Japan Sumo Association said Saturday it will hold a memorial service on Dec. 22 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium for its late chairman, Kitanoumi, who passed away Friday night due to multiple organ failure. He was 62.

A private funeral will be held.

Following Kitanoumi’s death, Hakkaku has been named acting chairman.

The Japanese flag was lowered to half-staff at Fukuoka Kokusai Center on the penultimate day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, the year’s final meet.

Yokozuna Hakuho, who owns a share of the tournament lead with rival grand champion Harumafuji, paid tribute to Kitanoumi, who is ranked fifth on the all-time list with 24 championships.

“I’m really stunned by it,” Hakuho said. “He thought about us wrestlers more than anyone I know. He was a truly great man.”

Kitanoumi, whose real name was Toshimitsu Obata, was transported to the hospital by ambulance Friday morning due to anemia. The chairman, who was in Fukuoka for the ongoing Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, was stable until taking a turn for the worse in the evening, according to the association.

“We’ve lost a big star,” said sumo elder Kasugano, the former sekiwake Tochinowaka. “All of us depended on him. It’s regrettable, but we’ll just have to all pool our strengths and do our best (without him).”

Kitanoumi was promoted to yokozuna following the 1974 Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament at the age of 21 years and two months, becoming the youngest wrestler since the start of the Showa Era in 1926 to ascend to the rank. He competed in a record 63 tournaments as a yokozuna.

“In the long history of sumo, I am the only one to keep plugging away for more than 10 years as a yokozuna. That’s something I’m proud of,” he once said.

The Hokkaido native retired after the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January 1985.