Monday, May 24, 1999

Kyodo News
Musashimaru holds a carp while being applauded by his supporters
during a ceremony celebrating his victory in the Summer Grand Sumo
Tournament in Tokyo. The fish is a traditionally given to the tourney winner.

BANZAI! Musashimaru wins Summer Sumo basho

The Hawaii ozeki is expected to
be promoted to the premier
rank of yokozuna after
beating Akebono

See also: Hawaii Sumotori in Sports

By Alastair Himmer
Kyodo News


TOKYO -- When ozeki Musashimaru called home last night after leaving yokozuna Akebono in a crumpled heap to clinch the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament and back-to-back Emperor's Cups, the voice at the other end of the line simply said, "You did good, son."

For Nimala Penitani, Musashimaru's mother, the demolition of Akebono in a clash of Hawaii titans was the culmination of 10 years of hard work that began when her boy, Fiamalu, won the jonokuchi junior division title with a 7-0 record in November 1989.

After going 13-2 in winning his fifth Emperor's Cup, Musashimaru is expected to be promoted to sumo's premier rank of yokozuna.

The Yokozuna Deliberation Council, an advisory body to the Japan Sumo Association, today recommended Musashimaru be promoted to yokozuna.

The council's recommendation paves the way for Musashimaru to become the 67th grand champion.

JSA executives will meet Wednesday to discuss the rankings for the Nagoya tournament in July and are expected to give the final approval to Musashimaru's promotion.

"His record meets our criteria and the decision was unanimous," said council chairman Kazuo Ichiriki after the council meeting. "He has the merit of never having had a losing record in his last 52 tournaments and we consider him a promising yokozuna."

Musashimaru, 28, will become the second foreign-born yokozuna after fellow Hawaii native Akebono, who has occupied the top rank since the March tourney in 1993.

Musashimaru will join fellow Hawaii native Akebono, Wakanohana and his younger brother Takanohana as yokozuna in Nagoya in July, making it the first grand sumo tournament in eight years to feature four grand champions.

Kyodo News
Musashimaru receives the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament
trophy from Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Musashimaru took 59 tournaments since his professional debut in September 1989 to win the council's endorsement -- the ninth slowest all-time among grand champions.

But Musashimaru's mother insisted today that heart is more important than rankings.

"Don't get me wrong, but 'yokozuna,' 'ozeki' -- it's all the same to me. Whatever rank he is, he's still the same person inside," she told Kyodo News in a telephone interview.

Nevertheless, she admitted to "yelling and screaming" as the Penitani family gathered round the television to watch Musashimaru's showdown with Akebono.

The match brought back memories of an exhibition tour in Hawaii six years ago when the two wrestlers faced off in the final -- with the same result.

"Back in 1993, I was jumping up and down, but that was just a two-day event. Yesterday was much more exciting because it was a big tournament and he did it over 15 days," she said, adding that the Penitani household had partied into the night yesterday.

"When Musashimaru called me last night I just screamed, 'Yes, yes, yes' into the receiver. I was so emotional and I cried a lot, which made him laugh," she said with obvious pride.

Mrs. Penitani also shed some light on her son's apparent shyness during interviews, explaining that "as a boy, he was always very humble."

At today's press conference in Tokyo, Musashimaru shifted awkwardly next to his stable master Musashigawa when the question of yokozuna promotion came up.

According to his mother, such reticence was also a trait of Musashimaru in his high school football-playing days.

"He was never really a big talker. He can talk, but he doesn't like to waste words. He's always had a big heart," she said.

Ironically, critics used to argue that Musashimaru lacked the heart or mental strength to perform in crunch situations. His records following his first three championships were 11-4, 12-3, and 8-7 -- all good enough to convince the Yokozuna Deliberation Council that he was up to the job of carrying sumo's highest rank.

One of a family of eight children, Musashimaru's first thought upon winning the jonokuchi title in Kyushu almost 10 years ago was to send his bonus money back home -- an act of selflessness which his mother said reflects traditional Hawaiian values.

"It's not about the money -- it's about respecting customs. In Hawaii, parents are very important to their kids. The family ties are very close," she said on the subject of Musashimaru's continuing financial support.

Support for Musashimaru and Akebono is split down the middle in Hawaii, said Mrs. Penitani. But, she added, mischievously, "not in my house."

Describing the scene as the family watched yesterday's final bout at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, she joked that the living-room furniture in the Penitani home took almost as heavy a beating as Akebono.

"Musashimaru won for himself. Half of Hawaii was rooting for Akebono, half for Musashimaru -- then there was me screaming 'Go, boy' at the TV," she said.

Maybe he heard it.

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