Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, February 10, 1998

Associated Press, Koji Sakurai
The Hawaiian-born sumo grand champion Akebono,
28, looks on as his fiancee, Christine Reiko Kalina, 25,
shows her engagement ring to press during a photo
session in Tokyo Tuesday. The couple are schedued
to marry in September.

Love story spans
the Pacific

Wedding bells for
sumo giant Akebono

By Joji Sakurai
Associate Press

TOKYO -- Sumo grand champion Akebono has become expert at intimidating opponents with his gargantuan girth and steely stare.

But his face-off Tuesday with reporters to announce his engagement produced the oddest of spectacles: The most daunting man in sumo breaking out in a cold sweat and a bashful grin.

''Sorry, I'm so nervous,'' he said sheepishly after a question left him stumped.

Just days after Akebono's ritual foot-stomping was heard around the world at the opening ceremony of the Nagano Olympics, Japan's top foreign-born wrestler was in the news again this week with reports of his engagement.

Tuesday, it was official. Hawaiian-born Akebono and his kimono-clad, half-American fiancee, Christina Reiko Kalina, fielded questions, blushed and giggled like a pair of high-school sweethearts.

''I'm happy,'' was about all either could manage to say as reporters shouted questions.

And as the flashes kept popping and the two were quizzed about everything from their favorite food to their honeymoon plans, the couple's prenuptial jitters continued.

Sweat poured down Akebono's face. Kalina increasingly resembled a deer caught in headlights.

Having reached sumo's highest rank, Akebono towers over his fellow wrestlers in both skill and size. Tuesday, he stood - literally - head and shoulders above his bride-to-be.

The future Mrs. Akebono, however, said that what impressed her most when they first met was not that he was a giant, but that he was a gentle one.

''My first impression was that he was really nice,'' Kalina said.

Akebono, for his part, said that, in Christina, he's finally found someone who can understand him.

Associated Press, Koji Sakurai
Chad Rowan--Akebono, and fiancee Christine
Kalina, meet the press in Tokyo yesterday.

''I feel most at peace when we're together,'' he said.

With punishing training sessions that start at dawn and a job description that includes marathon food-fests, the life of a sumo wrestler can be grueling.

Akebono says Christina's half-American background has been a welcome balm.

''Even when I speak in Japanese, sometimes I'm misunderstood here,'' said Akebono. ''I can express my feelings with her.''

Sumo is filled with arcane traditions and age-old rules that date from feudal Japan. A wrestler's personal life is strictly regimented, even by the often strait-jacketed standards of Japanese society.

Each wrestler belongs to a ''stable,'' and important personal decisions - including whom and when to marry - must receive the prior blessing of the stable master.

The 6-foot-8, 516-pound Akebono, formerly known as Chad Rowan, was the first foreign-born wrestler ever to become a ''yokozuna,'' the highest rank in the ancient Japanese sport.

He became a Japanese citizen two years ago.

Kalina, 26, is a teacher at the American school on the U.S. military base in Yokota, 25 miles northwest of Tokyo. Her father serves in the U.S. military and her mother is Japanese.

Christina is seven-months month's pregnant, and she will give birth long before the couple get married after this year's Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.

How does Akebono feel about becoming a father?

''At first I was surprised, but after I thought about it calmly, I was really happy.''

Do It Electric!

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