Japan mourns death of former sumo grand champion Taiho
TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
This February, 1967 photo shows former sumo grand champion Taiho (L) as he is performing during a Tokyo event.Japan was mourning yesterday after the death of former sumo grand champion Taiho, who won a record 32 tournaments and became a hugely popular figure in the 1960s when the sport was untainted by the damaging scandals seen more recently.
Taiho, whose real name was Koki Naya, died of heart failure in hospital in Tokyo on Saturday, the Japan Sumo Association said. He was 72. His death was front-page news in Japan, with the Nikkan Sports daily calling him “the strongest yokozuna (sumo grand champion) in history.”
“He was sumo history,” former yokozuna Chiyonofuji, whose 31 championships are second on the all-time list, told Kyodo news agency. “That one additional title he won, that was something beyond my reach. It is a measure of his greatness.” Born on the then Japanese-occupied island of Sakhalin off the Russian far east to a Japanese mother and a Ukrainian father, Naya was raised on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, reportedly in poverty. After making his debut in 1956, he won his first championship in 1960 and became the youngest wrestler to reach sumo’s top rank in 1961 when he was 21 years old. He retired from competition in 1971 after a career that saw him twice win six tournaments in a row.