Former ozeki Terunofuji said Monday that his remarkable comeback and subsequent victory at the July Grand Sumo Tournament would not have been possible without the help of a determined cadre of supporters.
The 28-year-old Mongolian paid his respects to those who helped him return to the sport's top makuuchi division for the first time in 14 tournaments, remarking in an online news conference that the road to winning his second title was in stark contrast to his first in 2015.
"It's totally different," Terunofuji said. "This was the result of the support from people around me.
"I worked hard on my own, but this happened with support. I returned to my original form, so I'm glad that led to a good result."
Terunofuji defeated sekiwake Mitakeumi at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday to cap a 13-2 performance at the first sumo tournament held in four months — a result all the more impressive for being earned under the unprecedented conditions aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
His only losses came against former ozeki Takayasu on Day 5 and sekiwake Shodai on Day 14, a day after he defeated newly promoted ozeki Asanoyama to claim the sole lead.
"I was happy," Terunofuji said. "To be honest, I didn't expect to win this much. I was thinking I could aim for a special prize if I got 10 wins, but I thought I just wanted to take it day by day.
"I had a lot of momentum because I won so much in the first half. I only won because I was riding that momentum. I think the next tournament might be tough if I don't train a little more."
Terunofuji was promoted to sumo's second-highest rank of ozeki in 2015 after capturing his maiden top-division title at that year's Summer Basho.
Injuries to both knees, however, as well as bouts with illness later resulted in the Mongolian's fall down the rankings, with him bottoming out at No. 48 in the jonidan division, the sport's next-to-lowest tier.
By competing as a No. 17 maegashira at the July basho, Terunofuji became the first wrestler in sumo history to fall as far down as the jonidan division and climb back up to the elite makuuchi division.
The Isegahama stable grappler said he intends to get back to training from Wednesday, despite admitting his knees were nearly out of commission after 15 days of action.
"I couldn't stretch (by the end of the tournament). It was hard getting up and down from the raised ring during the award ceremony."
When asked if he was aiming to return to sumo's second-highest rank, Terunofuji said, "I'm not thinking about that in particular. I'll just do whatever I can with all my power."
Terunofuji became the third wrestler on the lowest rung of the makuuchi rankings to clinch a championship, a feat last accomplished in January by Tokushoryu. He is also the first former ozeki to lift the Emperor's Cup since Kaiketsu in 1976.