Team Hakuho The two who support the strongest yokozuna

Yokozuna Hakuho set the record for most wins in sumo on July 21, the 13th day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, by defeating ozeki Takayasu for his 1,048th career victory.Hakuho broke the record first set by former ozeki Kaio. Hakuho tied the career win record in his 98th career tournament, 42 tournaments fewer than the number needed by Kaio to reach the same number of career wins.Hakuho has also won a record 39 Emperor's Cups, surpassing the achievements of others who were considered great yokozuna.

Yokozuna Hakuho may stand alone in the "dohyo" wrestling ring, but strong, silent support provided by two experts has played no small part in his record 1,048 career wins.The sumo champion describes two backroom staffers as being essential members of "Team Hakuho" because they are by his side throughout the 15 days of a grand sumo tournament as well as being close by as he prepares for competition. The duo have played important roles over the past year, which has been one of unexpected trials for the 32-year-old yokozuna.He was forced to sit out the entire Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament last September, the first time that has happened since he was promoted to yokozuna in 2007.The importance of Team Hakuho is apparent in light of the yokozuna's subsequent return to form, winning the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament with a perfect record and achieving the new career win record.

Kazutaka Sugimoto, orthopedic surgeon Sonoda artificial joint center hospital head

The first key member is Kazutaka Sugimoto, 48, an orthopedic surgeon who heads a hospital in Tokyo's Adachi Ward devoted to artificial limbs. Sugimoto became Hakuho's primary doctor two years ago.Sugimoto began working with injured sumo wrestlers about 15 years ago, which led to him becoming acquainted with Hakuho.They have developed such a close relationship that they often speak beyond simply the yokozuna's health concerns.

[Video] Hakuho's doctor discusses the yokozuna's strength(Tsubasa Setoguchi)

Tendon was severed

At one time, Sugimoto discovered in the course of examining Hakuho that a tendon and ligament on the inside of his right big toe had been severed. That area is important to sumo wrestlers because it supports their center of gravity. However, Sugimoto did not suggest treatment because Hakuho said he only felt that his movement was slightly bad.Sugimoto only brought up the subject after the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament a year ago when the yokozuna ended with a 10-5 record and was out of the running for the Emperor's Cup.Sugimoto told Hakuho, "The only option for you now is surgery."

Hakuho loses to Ikioi on the ninth day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in 2016.

Many patients faced with such an ultimatum will hem and haw before making a decision.It took Hakuho just a minute or so before he said, "Let's do it."Sugimoto said, "A yokozuna is a presence existing in another higher realm for which true value can only be brought out through winning a tournament. I believe Hakuho knew better than anyone else what he needed in order to make a comeback."In the past when Hakuho faced problems winning a tournament, his feet had been unable to establish a firm grip on the gritty dohyo and his face-offs were not strong. But four tournaments after he sat out the autumn tournament, Hakuho was able to recover the feel of his right foot planted firmly on the ground. That led to a return of top fighting form in which his upper body was flexible while his lower body maintained its stance.

[Video] An expert's guide to the toe injury that sidelined mighty Hakuho(Tsubasa Setoguchi)

Presence of Kisenosato

Sugimoto also made training suggestions to Hakuho, reminding him that he was no longer 24 or 25. He suggested that if the same physical stress was to be endured in training it should be broken down over a larger number of days using a small number of repetitive units every day.Hakuho has always trained at a slower pace. For a 90-minute training session, he will easily spend 60 minutes just warming up. Before his bouts during a tournament he also prepares at a slower graduated pace, building up a sweat through routine leg exercises."Although he never said it in so many words, I believe it was a good development for Kisenosato to be promoted to yokozuna (in January 2017)," Sugimoto said. "By (Hakuho) recognizing that he may no longer be at the top of the profession, I believe his desire to win has increased."

Tomonari Oba, personal sports trainer Kyushu Medical Sports Vocational School

The other important member of Team Hakuho is Tomonari Oba, 39, who works as Hakuho's personal trainer for about 140 days each year. That means he is present throughout a tournament as well as the week before a tournament. Oba also accompanies the yokozuna on the tours around the country that all sumo wrestlers undertake.Oba has worked with Hakuho for about five years.

"With feeling of ozeki facing demotion"

He will massage the yokozuna three times a day when tournament time arrives. Having spent so much time together, Hakuho's victory in the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament with a perfect record was also very special for Oba.Hakuho withdrew part way through the previous Spring Grand Sumo Tournament due to injury. He returned to his native Mongolia to undergo a military-type training regimen to rebuild his body. Hakuho told Sugimoto that the training was the toughest he had experienced over the past decade. He also told Sugimoto he would enter the summer tournament with the feeling of an ozeki facing demotion if he does not win eight bouts. While there is no demotion for yokozuna, poor performance means only one thing--retirement.Having produced the ultimate result, Oba said, "I believe his body and soul had returned to that of a challenger."

Biceps femoris muscle

Among the muscles that provide Hakuho with the engine to powerfully propel his huge bulk are the biceps femoris muscles behind his thighs. According to Oba, not only is that muscle unusually large on Hakuho, but it is also soft and possesses resilience so that it pops right back up when pushed.That accounts for his powerful charges and keeps him from falling forward when an opponent feints."The feeling of 'I can still win' appears to have been transmitted to his muscles because it feels as though Hakuho has become five years younger," Oba said.

"I just pass on information"

Surprisingly, Oba said there was no special training method that has produced arguably the strongest yokozuna ever. All Hakuho does is stick to the basics of sumo, but he is thorough in repeating exercises during training. In the end, that may be the toughest course to follow.

Hakuho during practice

"The incredible thing about the yokozuna is his self-control," Oba said. "All I do is pass on information. He drinks no alcohol during a tournament. He best realizes that a little forbearance, effort and patience will produce the joy of winning, happiness for his family and an increase in the number of his fans."(Written by Takahiro Takezono, Asahi Shimbun sumo writer)

Hakuho’s progress in sumo in his own words

Spring Grand Sumo Tournament of 2001

First appearance in sumo. His ring name of “Hakuho” harks back to two famed yokozuna, Kashiwado and Taiho.

Nov. 26, 2003

“My goal was to reach this division by the time I was 20. After the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, the yokozuna (Asashoryu) told me, 'Do your best because it gets more difficult from here on in.' I want to win promotion to ozeki and yokozuna as soon as possible.”

Hakuho becomes the fifth Mongolian sumo wrestler to reach the juryo division.

Hakuho holds a news conference after his promotion to the juryo division.

April 26, 2004

“I want to acquire the speed of the yokozuna (Asashoryu) and the thrusting of Chiyotaikai.”

Hakuho enters the makuuchi division at 19 years and one month.

Dec. 23, 2004

“I never imagined I would reach this point.”

Hakuho reaches komusubi for the first time at age 19.

March 29, 2006

“The feeling has gradually become stronger of wanting to become a champion like my father (who was a legendary figure in Mongolian sumo).”

Hakuho holds a news conference on gaining promotion to ozeki.

May 21, 2006
The final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament

“I put my entire body and soul into it. I want to express my gratitude to my stablemaster, my father, my mother and all the members of my stable.”

Hakuho wins his first tournament at 21 years and two months.

Hakuho receives a congratulatory kiss from his father at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

May 30, 2007

“I will further improve my sumo by thoroughly working to unify spirit and body in order not to tarnish the title of yokozuna."

Hakuho becomes the 69th yokozuna in sumo.

Hakuho glares at Asashoryu after being punched in the head after their bout on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament. (Yosuke Fukudome)

Jan. 27, 2008
The final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament

“I could not lose to the yokozuna who had been out of competition. That strong feeling was all that mattered.”

Hakuho defeats fellow yokozuna Asashoryu on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament. Asashoryu returned to the ring for the tournament after a disciplinary ban.

May 26, 2008

“I should not have done that. The yokozuna must serve as a role model for all sumo wrestlers. I will try to avoid that in the future.”

Hakuho glares at Asashoryu after being punched in the head after their bout on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.

Feb. 4, 2010

“We both came from Mongolia and he was my goal as a sumo wrestler. He was the yokozuna who pulled me up to where I am today. I want to tell him don't forget the sumo world. I want to do my best on behalf of the yokozuna as well.”

Hakuho remains the only yokozuna after Asashoryu's retirement.

July 23, 2010
The 13th day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament

“I have finally been able to tie stablemaster Taiho. I hope to enjoy myself from here on.”

Hakuho wins his 45th straight bout, tying retired yokozuna Taiho.

July 26, 2010
At a news conference one day after the final day of the tournament

“We only exist due to our fans. I felt once again the responsibility of leading a group of close to 1,000 sumo wrestlers. When I glanced at the dohyo while the national anthem was being played, I felt sadness because the trophy that is always there was nowhere to be seen.”

Hakuho wins the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament but no Emperor's Cup was given to him because of a scandal involving betting on baseball games by sumo officials and wrestlers.

Sept. 14, 2010
The third day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament

“Leading the same life for 365 days of the year has finally all come together. While I believe some luck was involved, luck only comes to those who make the effort.”

Hakuho wins on the third day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, becoming the third sumo wrestler from the Showa Era (1926-1989) to win at least 50 straight bouts.

Sept. 18, 2010
The seventh day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament

“It is a very strange feeling, seemingly quick, but also long. I want to continue doing my best while taking advantage of the experience at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament (when he had to compete under the pressure and cloud of scandal that hit the entire sumo world).”

Hakuho extends his winning streak to 54, overtaking retired yokozuna Chiyonofuji.

Nov. 15, 2010
The second day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament

“This is what a loss means.”

Hakuho's winning streak ends at 63 after losing to Kisenosato. The streak is the second longest ever.

April 26, 2011

“I hope to continue performing my best for the sake of the children who must stand up and shoulder the burden of this nation.”

Hakuho proposes at a meeting of all sumo wrestlers that everyone donate 10,000 yen a month to be given to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

May 23, 2011
Hakuho holds a news conference one day after the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.

“I felt I alone could not be happy when Japan was facing a difficult time. I may have been able to regain some trust (for the sumo world) by producing results.”

Winning a "test basho" conducted in place of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament because of a bout-rigging scandal

June 4, 2011

“I felt strongly once again the deep bonds that tie sumo, the national sport, with the people of this nation," Hakuho said. "I am truly happy to have come here.”

Sumo wrestlers visit the Iwate Prefecture towns of Yamada and Otsuchi, among the hardest-hit areas in the disaster from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and distribute “chanko nabe,” the signature sumo hot-pot dish, to about 2,800 disaster victims.

Sept. 23, 2012
The final day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament

“He will become a good rival. I will do my best.”

Harumafuji wins his second straight tournament with a perfect record and solidifies his promotion to yokozuna. Hakuho's period as the sole yokozuna ends after 15 tournaments.

Jan. 19, 2013

“He was my father in sumo. I have three fathers, but now one has passed away. We will carry on his will and do our best.”

Former yokozuna Taiho dies.
With tears in his eyes after paying his respects to bereaved family members

Hakuho responds to reporters after paying his respects to bereaved family members in Tokyo’s Koto Ward.

July 22, 2013
Hakuho holds a news conference one day after the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament.

“I have a sense of satisfaction. I am glad I have been able to exceed that man. I don't think anyone will complain from now on.”

Hakuho overtakes retired Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu in the number of Emperor's Cups won.

Sept. 8, 2013

“I will continue fighting until the Tokyo Olympics. If I can perform the yokozuna dohyo entrance ceremony at the opening ceremony, I will be able to appear on the Olympic stage like my father (who took part in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in wrestling). I want to continue to pursue a dream.”

After the IOC chooses Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sept. 28, 2014
The final day of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament

“I never thought I would one day stand side by side with the great yokozuna whose video I watched from the time I joined the sumo world.”

Hakuho wins to tie retired yokozuna Chiyonofuji (the stablemaster Kokonoe) for second in all-time Emperor's Cups with 31.

Nov. 23, 2014
The final day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament

“I believe I have been able to achieve this result because I have been recognized by the spirit of this nation and the gods of sumo.”

Hakuho wins his 32nd tournament, tying him with retired yokozuna Taiho, from whom he used a kanji character for his ring name.

March 14, 2016
The second day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament

“It seemed both very long, but also very quick.”

Hakuho wins for his 671st win as yokozuna, breaking the record held by retired yokozuna Kitanoumi.

May 8, 2016
The first day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament

“Twelve years (since first entering the sumo world) passed by in an instant.”

Hakuho defeats Okinoumi to tie former ozeki Kaio for most wins in the makuuchi division at 879.

May 20, 2016
The 13th day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament

“Strong sumo wrestlers become ozeki. That is the fate awaiting yokozuna.”

Hakuho defeats then ozeki Kisenosato in a bout between two wrestlers with perfect records.
With the loss Kisenosato’s chances of winning the tournament decrease, making promotion to yokozuna more difficult.

Hakuho, right, throws Kisenosato to the dohyo for the win (Reina Kitamura)

July 18, 2016
The eighth day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament

“If it comes to this, the only goal is 1,000 wins in the makuuchi division. I should be greedy and set huge goals."

Hakuho records his 900th win in the makuuchi division.

Aug. 2, 2016

“He died too soon.”

Hakuho pays his respects at the Kokonoe stable, following the death on July 31 of the stablemaster Kokonoe, who fought as yokozuna Chiyonofuji.

Sept. 8, 2016

“I have begun to feel that I am now different than when I was in my 20s. I felt I could not trouble those around me.”

Hakuho sits out an entire tournament for the first time after promotion to yokozuna. The big toe of his right foot that he hurt in the previous tournament had not completely healed.

Nov. 15, 2016
The third day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament

“I never thought I would become the third wrestler. My next goal is to first reach 1,001 wins.”

Hakuho becomes the third sumo wrestler, after former ozeki Kaio and retired yokozuna Chiyonofuji, to rack up at least 1,000 career wins.

May 29, 2017
The final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament

"I'm back,"

Hakuho defeats fellow yokozuna Harumafuji for his 38th Emperor's Cup, but the first in a year. It was also the 13th time he won with a perfect record.