Wakatakakage promoted to sekiwake, ties Fukushima wrestlers' all-time career highs

Wakatakakage, a 27-year-old native of Fukushima city, was promoted to professional sumo's third-highest rank of sekiwake and sits on the east side of the rankings for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament released by the Japan Sumo Association on Feb. 28. It is the first time in 18 years that a Fukushima wrestler has reached that rank. The last time was in 2004 when Izumizaki village native Tamanoshima, who is now stablemaster Hanaregoma, earned promotion to sekiwake for that year's New Year tournament. Wakatakakage, whose real name is Atsushi Onami, is the fifth Fukushima native in the post-World War II era to become sekiwake -- the highest rank thus far for all wrestlers from the prefecture. He belongs to the Arashio stable After the announcement of the rankings, Wakatakakage appeared in an online press conference with stablemaster Arashio, 38, who is former makuuchi top-division wrestler Sokokurai, at Arashio stable in Tokyo. Wakatakakage said he "had long been aiming to wrestle at the (fourth-highest rank of) komusubi" to match the career high of his grandfather Wakabayama. "It's amazing to have been able to surpass it," he said as he relished in the pleasure of his achievement. "I would like to do my best every day in every match and hopefully end up with kachikoshi (a majority of wins)," he said without changing his facial expression when asked about his goal in the 15-day spring tourney, which opens on March 13 at Edion Arena Osaka. Wakatakakage took up sumo when he was a Yoshiida elementary school first grader, and continued to hone his skills throughout his junior career at Shinobu junior high school and Gakuho Fukushima high school. He went on to attend Toyo University and was runner-up in the individual event of the 2016 national collegiate sumo championships before making his professional debut at the 2017 spring tournament, where he ranked at No. 100 in the fourth-tier sandanme division. He was promoted to the second-tier juryo division at the 2018 summer tournament and made his top-division debut at the Kyushu tourney in November 2019. After being sidelined from the entire tournament in January last year due to a coronavirus infection, Wakatakakage won the Technique Prize in his return to competition in March and again in May for the second straight tournament. In the Nagoya round in July when he fought as a new komusubi, he went 5-10 for makekoshi (a majority of losses), but bounced back with kachikoshi at the following three tourneys to return to the sanyaku echelon -- the top three ranks below yokozuna, or grand champion. Among post-war sumo wrestlers from Fukushima, four peaked at sekiwake before Wakatakakage -- Tokitsuyama, Shinobuyama, Tochiazuma (first generation) and Tamanoshima. Wakatakakage is the first sekiwake for the Arashio stable, set up in 2002. Wakatakakage is the youngest of three Onami brothers, all professional sumo wrestlers. His immediate elder brother, 28-year-old Minato, wrestles as Wakamotoharu, while the eldest, 30-year-old Wataru, is known as Wakatakamoto. Both climbed up the rankings for the spring tournament, with Wakamotoharu placed at No. 9 maegashira in the top division's west slot and Wakatakamoto at west-side No.13 in the third-tier makushita division. The trio's grandfather is former komusubi Wakabayama (hailing from Saitama Prefecture), while their 54-year-old father is former makushita ranker Wakashinobu. (Translated by Kyodo News)

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