Shion Okura, who was selected to compete in the world championships at the age of 15, practices in a training session. (Video by Takuro Yamano)

OGAKI, Gifu Prefecture--On a recent day at a sumo training session, a loud crashing sound came from a garage when two wrestlers met at the initial charge.

In this session, 162-centimeter-tall Shion Okura, who weighs 110 kilograms, thrust her head against a male wrestler’s body. Following the advice of those outside the sumo ring to “move forward,” she quickly pushed him out.

“My style is striking against the opponent on the head at the start to make situations favorable to me,” said Okura. “Pushing the opponent out of the ring is my ideal way to win.”

Okura, 16, is dreaming of becoming the world’s sumo champion someday, adding her name to the list of the top female student athletes in Japan.

The first-year student at Ogaki Nihon University High School, who lives here, won the national championship at 15 in the heavyweight division. She also contributed to the Japanese team’s silver medal in the international sumo competition.

As many student athletes such as swimmer Runa Imai and figure skater Rika Kihira make considerable accomplishments in international sports events, Okura also is expected to be a world champion in her sport in the near future.

AMAZING PRESSURE

In sumo, how to start the bout from a crouch is regarded as the most important factor. Although thrusting their head against the opponent is a standard technique, doing so raises fear in many wrestlers.

Because of that, many thrust their chests or push the opponent with both hands.

As her coach, Akira Hirayama, 36, who refined his skills at Nihon University, which is famous for its sumo team, said it is surprising for Okura to be able to strongly strike her head against the opponent.

Hirayama practiced at the university with Kosaku Satoyama, who competed in the Grand Sumo Tournaments as a top-division wrestler, and also wrestled in the non-student sumo competitions.

“Few female wrestlers can do like her (Ogaki),” said Hirayama.

Yuhi Shinagawa, 17, who wrestles with Okura, shows how his chest had reddened because of the practice.

“Her pushing pressure is amazing,” said Shinagawa. “Her pressure cannot be compared to others.”

Okura was selected for the Japanese team for the Women Sumo World Championships last year at the age of 15. The event is organized by the International Sumo Federation, which comprises more than 80 nations and regions.

Women from Japan, the United States, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Poland, Thailand and other countries competed in that year’s championships in Taiwan.

While wrestlers from Russia won all the team and individual events in all weight divisions in the championships, Okura competed as the top wrestler in the Japanese team and took the silver medal in the team competition.

In the Junior Sumo World Championships, Okura and her teammates beat Russia to grab the gold medal. While amateur sumo has weight classes unlike the Grand Sumo Tournaments, Okura placed second in the open individual division in which the heaviest wrestlers participated.

Inspired by her older brother, Okura began practicing sumo when she was 10. Okura’s style of thrusting the head against her opponent is based on advice from Naoki Shimoo, 50, head of the Ogaki children’s sumo club that she joined as an elementary school student.

Shimoo, believing “wrestlers in Ogaki should push their opponents,” thoroughly trained Okura to push her opponent strongly.

“One must push the opponents from a lower position to win against taller and stronger wrestlers,” Shimoo said. “She (Okura) can apparently beat her rivals all over the world because she concentrates on pushing the opponents.”

MENTAL WEAKNESS

Okura cited overcoming mental weakness as a challenge.

In last year’s all-Japan women sumo championship, Okura was to wrestle in the second round against a Toyama prefectural police officer who was once selected to compete in the open division in an international event.

Sumo has rankings like judo. Although the police officer was ranked fourth, Okura had been given no rank.

“To me, she (the officer) is the typical sumo champion,” Okura said. “I was daunted as she is a great senior wrestler. I felt nervous, thinking I was unlucky.”

But Hirayama encouraged Okura, saying, “Wrestle as you always do,” and she beat the police officer by pushing her out of the ring. Okura won against wrestlers from Nihon University in the semifinal and final, becoming the national champion in the heavyweight division at age 15.

“The championship showed me that I need to become able to wrestle as usual anytime,” said Okura.

Hirayama said he dreams that sumo will be included in the Olympics so Okura can compete in the globally renowned sporting event.

“Okura would surely be chosen to compete in the Olympics and win gold,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing such a day come.”

Okura vows to further improve her skills.

“A Russian wrestler--far larger than her Japanese counterparts--measuring 185 cm tall and weighing 180 kg competed in the world championships,” she said. “I have to practice harder to win against such wrestlers. I want to be the world champion someday by further refining my pushing technique.”