By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterA veteran wrestler from the Oguruma stable is performing better than ever before. Yoshikaze achieved the sekiwake rank for the first time in nine basho since the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March last year.
Promoted to sekiwake at the age of 35 years and 5 months, Yoshikaze became the fifth oldest rikishi to rise in the ranks since World War II and also the oldest among wrestlers born in or after the Showa era (1926-1989).
When the Autumn tournament banzuke ranking was announced on Aug. 28, Yoshikaze made an insightful remark at a press conference: “I was physically sharper in my late 20s. I’m not at my strongest, but I now can utilize my power most effectively.”
Yoshikaze is 1.76 meters tall and weighs 145 kilograms — considerably smaller than the average height and weight of makuuchi-division wrestlers. Even so, he does not shy away from charging all-out at opponents bigger than him at the jump-off. His skillfulness, notably after gaining a two-handed belt grip, further improved after turning 30. Nine times in his career he was awarded one of the post-tournament prizes given to makuuchi wrestlers — the awards for Fighting Spirit, Outstanding Performance, and Technique. In recent years, the number of Technique and Outstanding Performance awards he has earned has increased — proof of the veteran’s deft technique.
Yoshikaze graduated from Nippon Sport Science University and entered the dohyo ring for the first time at the 2004 New Year’s tournament. The following year, he was promoted to the second-tier juryo division for the Nagoya basho in July and made his debut at the uppermost makuuchi division at the 2006 January tournament, advancing his career by leaps and bounds.
Despite the rapid promotion to the top division, he remained inconspicuous for a long spell. It was not until the 2016 January tournament at 33 that he finally earned promotion to sekiwake. Yoshikaze then made his presence felt through his bold pushes and clever sense of timing in pulling techniques.
In his career, he collected a number of kinboshi — a maegashira victory over a yokozuna — once from Hakuho, twice from Harumafuji and three times from Kakuryu.
Yoshikaze recently achieved various old-age records, but he said, “I am far less concerned with all those records. All I want is a better rank [of ozeki].”
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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