Sumo

Former ozeki Terunofuji draws strength from long battle back

Kyodo

When you have hit bottom, as former ozeki Terunofuji has, even the novel coronavirus threat is not enough to darken one's outlook.

Last month, the Mongolian was poised to become the first wrestler in sumo history to return to the top-flight makuuchi division after dropping as far as the lower-tier jonidan ranks. That moment, however, was put on hold when the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament was canceled.

"My focus is on reaching the top," said the 28-year-old who now dreams of becoming a marquee wrestler in the sumo world once more. "That resolve is unshakeable."

Once a potential candidate for yokozuna, surgeries on both knees and bouts with diabetes and hepatitis C left Terunofuji's prospects in ruins and pushed him to the point of informing his stablemaster Isegahama of his readiness to retire. But the process of overcoming that threat to his career has become a source of strength for him now.

Terunofuji began his comeback last year in March's Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, when he returned to the ring as a No. 48 jonidan wrestler, competing in the sumo world's next-to-lowest tier.

"When you hit bottom, the path in front of you is completely dark," he said. "You have to think farther ahead and search for a light. But once you decide that this is going to be your livelihood, it's not such a hardship."

In addition to the expected morning sumo practice sessions, Terunofuji spent afternoons building himself up with the stable's weight training equipment.

"What can you do about things beyond your control, even if they are disastrous?" he said. "The important thing in life is to think about your own actions."

The next step in his comeback will start on July 19, when that month's grand tournament takes place with adjustments mandated by the coronavirus pandemic. The July event is set to be held behind closed doors and in Tokyo instead of Nagoya, where it is customarily held.

The tourney will mark the 14th since Terunofuji last competed in the top tier. As for those suffering amid the pandemic, Terunofuji hopes he can become a beacon of sorts.

"I hope someone thinks, 'If Terunofuji can do it, so can I,'" he said. "If you don't give up, good things can happen. I want to express that through my sumo."

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