Sergey Sokolovsky recently took the new recruit exam and, when he makes his competitive debut in March, the 22-year-old will become the first-ever Ukrainian in professional sumo.
He won’t be the first rikishi with a connection to the eastern European nation, however.
The father of yokozuna Taiho, one of the greatest wresters of all time, and the man who held the record for most titles for over half a century, was an ethnic Ukrainian.
Fleeing the Soviet invasion of Sakhalin with his mother though, Taiho never saw his father again. He searched for him on a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but it was in vain.
During the evacuation Taiho’s mother became sick, forcing them to disembark at Wakkanai rather than continue on to Otaru. That saved their lives as the ship they were traveling on was torpedoed and sunk before reaching its destination.
After a hard childhood spent in poverty in Hokkaido, Taiho started participating in sumo as a skinny 16-year-old. But by the time he retired a decade and a half later, he was one of the most legendary rikishi in sumo history.
It took 50 years for many of the records he set to be broken by Hakuho, but Taiho still stands second all time in total championships (32), undefeated championships (eight) and consecutive championships (six).
So beloved was he during his reign that there was a popular saying that the three things all kids liked were “Kyojin, Taiho, Tamagoyaki” — the Yomiuri Giants, Taiho and Japanese-style omelettes.
After his retirement, Taiho was given the rare honor of allowing to continue as a sumo elder using his ring name.
Kitanoumi, Chiyonofuji and Takanohana are the only other men to date to have been offered the same status.
Otake stable, which Taiho set up in 1971, still exists and has a sign over the door saying Taiho Dojo.
Naya, a 19-year-old grandson of Taiho, is currently in the sport’s third-highest division and is tipped to be a star of the future.
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