• Kyodo

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Sipping sake from a giant silver cup gives the drink a special taste, Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament champion Mitakeumi said Monday.

A day after being crowned champion for the first time in his career, the 25-year-old sekiwake said he relished drinking from the ceremonial sake vessel that is among the host of prizes awarded to tournament champions.

“It tasted fantastic,” a grinning Mitakeumi said at his Dewanoumi stable in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture at the traditional morning-after news conference.

The Nagano Prefecture native, who entered the professional sumo world just three and a half years ago, capitalized on the absence of all three yokozuna and newly promoted ozeki Tochinoshin to win the 15-day tournament at Dolphins Arena.

This fall, Mitakeumi will make his first bid for promotion to ozeki, the second-highest rank.

“It’s finally over. It was a gratifying 15 days. (In the past) I often stalled in the second half of tournaments, but this time I somewhat overcame that,” said the wrestler, whose real name is Hisashi Omichi.

With his hometown of Agematsu in Nagano Prefecture a two-hour drive from Nagoya, Mitakeumi enjoyed strong crowd support during the tournament. Among the fans watching his every move was his mother Margarita, who is originally from the Philippines.

After going undefeated through his first 11 bouts, Mitakeumi secured the championship with his 13th victory, over rank-and-file wrestler Tochiozan, on the penultimate day.

He lost his final-day bout against No. 9 maegashira Yutakayama to finish with a 13-2 record. Yutakayama, who finished 12-3, was Mitakeumi’s closest rival at the tournament.

In addition to the Emperor’s Cup, Mitakeumi’s efforts throughout the meet earned him a third career Outstanding Performance Prize, as well as his second Technique Prize.

He became the first grand tournament winner from Nagano Prefecture, where local newspapers printed extra editions to herald the historic achievement. The support from his home prefecture was overwhelming, Mitakeumi said.

“I am so happy. I will be smiling with pride when I return to Nagano. I can’t wait to see everyone smiling there too,” he said.

In the aftermath of his victory ceremony, the sekiwake said he had been too overcome with emotion to have a conversation with his stablemaster Dewanoumi.

“If I tried speaking for too long, I would have broken down in tears,” he said.

The Nagoya tournament was Mitakeumi’s ninth-straight meet among the three sanyaku rankings below yokozuna.

He was demoted to komusubi for finishing the spring grand tourney in March with a losing record, but regained sekiwake status after completing the following meet in May with nine wins and six losses.

At the upcoming Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament starting Sept. 9 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, he will aim to be promoted to ozeki.

Based on historical precedent, he will most likely need to string together consecutive tournaments with double-digit victories to reach the sport’s second-highest ranking.

But first, the newly crowned champion has plans for some rest and relaxation.

“I want to go to the beach. Somewhere overseas would be fine. It doesn’t need to be Japan, just somewhere quiet,” he said.

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