The competition level at the 2006 US Sumo Open was higher than at all past events, with 47 of the world’s top sumo wrestlers competing for prestige,prizes, and cash. As in years past, international teams dominated the competition, as the 18 foreign athletes won most of the medals (13 out of 23). In fact, foreign athletes won every single gold medal (except by default in the women’s lightweight, where all of the competitors were American)!
Sumo’s Growing Popularity
Nearly 3,000 fans packed into The Los Angeles Convention Center for the Sunday, April 9 event, almost tripling the 2005 US Sumo Open attendance. The excitement was tangible. Not only were Japanese taiko drums playing sets, but the enormous Mongolian contingent of fans included drummers who built up the tempo before matches. During many of the most dramatic matches, the roar of the crowd was deafening.
Special Guest Yokozuna Returns
California Sumo Association (CSA) is honored to be working with Grand Champion (Yokozuna) Musashimaru for the third year in a row. Musashimaru was the special guest at the 2004 US Sumo Open, and CSA worked with him extensively for Grand Sumo Las Vegas in 2005. It was great for CSA and fans alike to welcome him back again for the 2006 US Sumo Open. In fact, Musashimaru left his announcer’s chair and helped with the judging halfway through the competition – quite a surprise!
The importance of proper officiating in sumo can not be overestimated. For the second year in a row, the two chief officials, Mr. Shimomura and Mr. Muramatsu, both of the Japan Shizuoka Sumo Federation, handled refereeing of all matches. Mr. Shimomura has been referee at sumo events all over Japan and the world, including at several World Sumo Championships. With over 50 years sumo experience, Mr. Shimomura brought remarkable presence and skill to the event. Joining the two Japanese officials as judges were Nik Brown (USA), Bayaraa Gambaa (Mongolia), and Joey Nawa (USA).
The Legend of Kato
For the second consecutive year, Koichi Kato of Japan went undefeated in BOTH the heavyweight and openweight divisions. He has never even appeared in danger of losing in any of his 22 matches at the US Sumo Opens. Kato gracefully twisted or flipped most of his opponents through the air, without the need to rely on his considerable strength. He had no trouble in defeating current World Sumo Champion Torsten Scheibler of Germany and former professional sumo wrestler Wayne Vierra of Hawaii – two opponents who were expected to present a challenge. Is there anyone outside of Japan who can even give Kato a good sumo fight? We’re waiting. . .
The Mongolian Invasion
Nine Mongolian nationals competed in the US Sumo Open, more than the total Mongolian presence in all past US Sumo Opens combined. The Mongolian competitors won a total of six medals, including HALF of the gold medals in the entire competition. Of the eight weight and gender divisions, four titles were captured by Mongolian competitors. The only comparable dominance by one country was in the 2002 US Sumo Open when Estonians also captured four gold medals.
In particular, the Mongolian lightweight men were phenomenal. Three of the four Mongolians in the field of 11 lightweights advanced to the semi-finals, and the final all-Mongolian match between Erdenebileg Alagdaa (the eventual winner) and Munkhjargal Ulziibayar lasted a dramatic three minutes!! Furthermore, Mongolian women won four medals: middleweight gold and openweight bronze for Mukharshar Enkhtsetseg and heavyweight gold and openweight gold for undefeated champion Erdeneochir Dolgormaa.
Consistent European Presence
In every single US Sumo Open since the inception in 2001, European competitors have won medals (as many as 13 in the 2002 US Sumo Open!!). Of particular note is the Bulgarian streak – Bulgarian athletes have won medals every single year since 2002 (five consecutive years), and this streak was kept alive (barely) by lone Bulgarian, Stiliyan Georgiev, who grabbed the bronze medal in men’s lightweight against an awesome Mongolian group of opponents. Stiliyan also made it to the semi-finals in the openweight, but was defeated there by Kato of Japan.
Odd Magnus Severinsen of Norway won gold in the men’s middleweight against a formidable field of US and Mongolian competitors, including the US Sumo Champion, Troy Collins, who Odd defeated in the final match. The German contingent was also amazing. In fact, the heavyweight semi-finals included Koichi Kato of Japan, and three Germans – Torsten Scheibler, Karsten Grap, and Alex Czerwinski. The heavyweight final four (three Germans and one Japanese) were a mirror image of the lightweight final four (three Mongolians and a Bulgarian), in each case showing the dominance of Europe and Asia in amateur sumo.
Out of 24 American men, only three won any medals, and none of them gold. One US standout was US Sumo Open first-timer Ian Harris, wh captured middleweight bronze. Another was former professional sumo wrestler Wayne Vierra (of Hawaii). Wayne failed to advance beyond the quarter-finals in the heavyweight, but went all the way to the finals in openweight, winning silver, behind Koichi Kato.
Perennial fan favorite and Los Angeles Police Officer, Troy Collins, won his eighth and ninth US Sumo Open medals, a feat that may never be equaled. In his first Open in 2002, Troy won an openweight medal, and since then, he has won middleweight and openweight medals every single year – an incredible model of consistency. Troy, who is talking of retirement, took the middleweight silver and openweight bronze this year. This annual triumph is even more remarkable, considering that as a middleweight, Troy has won openweight medals for five years in a row, defeating a string of international heavyweight champions.
The American women did modestly well, considering the dearth of foreign opponents. In fact, the only American to win a gold medal in the entire event was 16-year old Christina Hernandez (of Oceanside, California), who faced only two other Americans in the women’s lightweight. Larae Crite, also of Oceanside, made her mark with silver medals in both heavyweight and openweight divisions, losing only to overall champion Dolgormaa.
Other than that, the American showing was somewhat disappointing. In the lightweight men’s division, after Japan’s Shinichiro Okano dropped out due to injury, the five remaining foreigners captured the top five positions, with the five Americans in the bottom five spots. In the heavyweight men’s class, six of seven foreigners advanced to the quarter-finals, while the only two Americans to make it that far (Wayne Vierra of Hawaii and Carl Pappalardo of New York) both lost in the quarter-finals. Can the US athletes do better in 2007?