• Kyodo

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Yokozuna Kakuryu said Monday he is relieved he was able to claim a long-awaited fourth championship despite suffering from a right-hand injury he sustained two months ago.

A day after the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament concluded at Edion Arena Osaka, the 32-year-old allowed the joy of winning his first championship in eight tournaments to sink in.

“I’ve never felt so good waking up in the morning,” Kakuryu said with a laugh at the customary morning-after press conference. “Seeing my child’s face (yesterday) was the greatest feeling ever.”

After injuring fingers on his right hand on the final day of the January basho, the Mongolian was mulling whether to compete at the March tournament until the last minute.

“I didn’t have winning the championship in mind,” he said. “Around the seventh day (of the tournament) I caught them on something somehow and they got even worse.”

But he met the expectations that come with his lofty rank and the added pressure of fighting as the sole yokozuna — after Hakuho and Kisenosato withdrew due to injuries. Kakuryu finished the 15-day tournament with a 13-2 record, after getting off to the best start of his career with an 11-bout winning streak that was stopped by January’s champion, sekiwake Tochinoshin.

The Mongolian yokozuna even mentioned his plans after leaving the sport’s front lines. Upon retirement, wrestlers often seek to stay in the sport as a sumo elder, a position that requires Japanese citizenship and is a prerequisite to becoming a stablemaster.

“It’s not easy to become an elder. There are so many things one has to do,” Kakuryu said. “Whether or not I can do all those things is part of the decision I want to make.”

But for now, the Mongolian, who had a nightmare, injury-plagued 2017, is still focused on competing at the sport’s highest rank in May.

Kakuryu only managed to complete one grand tournament in 2017.

“I want to keep moving forward, improve and do my best to be stronger,” he said.

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