Opening ceremonies included Japanese taiko drumming and Japanese traditional dance. A sake barrel breaking ceremony with Akebono, and representatives of The Japan Foundation and the Consulate General of Japan kicked off the competition. The third annual US SUMO OPEN was part of “US-Japan 150”, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of US-Japan relations.
Highlights of the event included several rivals from the 2002 US SUMO OPEN facing off again in the final rounds. The competition featured 31 sumo athletes from all over the world, including competitors and sumo teams from the USA, Bulgaria, Hungary, New Zealand, Lebanon, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan. American athletes came from all over California, Hawaii, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Texas, and New York.
The men’s lightweight division saw some major upsets. The three 2002 medallists, Trevor Roberts, Jason Maron, and Trent Sabo all competed again, but none of them medalled in 2003. The upsets came from three other 2002 competitors, none of whom got medals that year. In the semi-final rounds, Joe Davis of Los Angeles defeated UCLA student Kevin Yonemoto, and Mongolian-born Tumur Baatar defeated local Trent Sabo.
The third place match between Trent Sabo and Kevin Yonemoto was quite an upset. Trent and Kevin had trained together for years, with Trent generally getting the upper hand. In fact, Trent had gone undefeated against Kevin in prior 2003 tourneys, and had also lifted Kevin up and out in an early match of the US SUMO OPEN on August 3. Kevin, however, managed to win his other matches and advance to the semi-finals. The two struggled all over the ring, grappling, pushing, and sidestepping, until they knocked each other off-balance, and Trent went sailing out of the ring just a split second before Kevin.
In the final match, 187-pound Joe Davis went against 164-pound Tumur Baatar. In prior tournaments, Joe had won some major victories, but was unable to get gold, as he competed against much larger opponents in the middleweight class. For the OPEN, Joe cut 15 pounds to compete in lightweight, where he went undefeated. Tumur, Mongolian-born, and now a Bulgarian resident, had done well in 2002, but didn’t make it to the final rounds. He and Joe smashed together in the final match, but Joe used his size and strength to crush Tumur out of the ring.
The middleweight opening rounds included a tie-breaker in one bracket that saw Daryl Wilhelm from Arizona defeat California gubernatorial candidate Kurt Rightmyer, to advance to the semi-finals. Daryl lost in the semi-finals to Major Gyula of Hungary, and LAPD officer Troy Collins was defeated by Hawaiian Kena Heffernan. Troy, a 2002 OPEN medallist, came back to defeat Daryl in the third place match.
Kena and Major both had a strong charge in the final match, but Kena, a sumo veteran from Hawaii, slipped a little on the canvas ring, and his hand touched the ground. Ever gracious in victory and defeat alike, Kena bowed and accepted the silver. In 2002, Major had lost a controversial semi-final match, but this year, he redeemed himself with the gold.
The heavyweight men, like the lightweights and middleweights, included several returning athletes from the 2001 and 2002 US SUMO OPEN tournaments. In the semi-finals, 402-pound Sonny Parsons of New Zealand pushed out 420-pound Kelly Gneiting of Idaho, who had medalled in 2001. Meanwhile, Hungarian Barnabas Toth and Mosi Humphrey from San Diego unleashed intense slapping attacks on each other in the other semi-final. The battle was furious, but Barnabas’ persistence, experience, and speed paid off, as he finally slapped Mosi out.
In the third place match, Kelly defeated Mosi with his superior size. In the finals, Barnabas, facing a larger opponent, caught Sonny off-balance, for a quick gold medal victory. In 2002, Barnabas had lost in the semi-finals, so settled for third place, which made his 2003 victory all the sweeter.
The women’s competition was also exciting, as ladies from 108 to 178 pounds fought in a round-robin to advance to the semi-finals and finals. The overall champion was 17-year old Flo Kinslow, who went undefeated, while Mahshid Tarazi, a medallist for the last two years, settled for silver. May Chung of Hong Kong, at 108 pounds, got the openweight bronze.
Most of the male competitors also returned for the openweight compeition, where athletes of all sizes fought each other. None of the lightweights made it past the first round, but there were five heavyweights and three middleweights left in the quarter-finals. Sonny Parsons, at 402 pounds, defeated 530-pound Casey Burns of Idaho, 245-pound Troy Collins defeated 325-pound Richard Hopp, 358-pound Barnabas Toth beat 250-pound Kena Heffernan, and 253-pound Major Gyula edged out 293-pound Mosi Humphrey.
In the semi-finals, Troy used quickness and technique to push out Sonny, a man almost twice his size. This was reminiscent of the 2002 openweight third-place match, where Troy beat another opponent in the 400-pound range in the openweight class.
The other semi-final match was between the middleweight and heavyweight champions, Major Gyula and Barnabas Toth, both from Hungary. Major, who gave up 100 pounds, came in fast and hard to secure an excellent inside grip. He drove Barnabas to the edge several times, but each time Barnabas recovered. Finally, Barnabas twisted Major to the side, and fell on top of him for the win.
In the third place match, Major redeemed himself with a victory against Sonny, earning his second medal of the day. Barnabas beat Troy in the finals, also for his second medal of the day. So, the two members of the Hungarian team left with four medals between them, while Troy, the LAPD officer, walked away with two medals of his own.
The matches were hard-fought and exciting, but at the awards ceremony, all the athletes joined together with AKEBONO to celebrate the annual contest. For those who didn’t win, there’s always next year . . .