Over 2,000 people packed the lower level of the Los Angeles Sports Arena for this pre-eminent competition. Over 40 of the world’s best international sumo athletes competed, but only one athlete was undefeated in his own weight class and in the openweight class!
Mongolian-born Byambajav Ulambayar (“Byamba”), who competed for 5 years in professional Japanese sumo, went 10-0, to take gold medals in both the men’s heavyweight and the men’s openweight. Byamba takes over where Koichi Kato (of Japan) left off in 2005 and 2006.
While Kato went undefeated during those two US Sumo Opens, going 22-0, for repeat heavyweight and openweight titles, Byamba, at age 22, seems destined for further greatness. (In hindsight, it’s no surprise that Byamba continued to win gold medals at the US Sumo Open for an incrdible 8 years in a row, and captured 4 World Sumo Champion titles since starting his streak at the US Sumo Open!)
FOREIGN DOMINANCE CONTINUES
As in every single US Sumo Open since its 2001 inception, foreign athletes dominated in nearly every weight class. Of 12 men’s medals, 11 were captured by Europeans and Asians, with only one medal going to an American. In the women’s competition, the sole foreign competitor captured gold medals in heavyweight and openweight.
Mongolian athletes captured every single men’s gold medal, and the only Mongolian female athlete won each class that she could compete in. The only gold medals that went to non-Mongolians were in women’s lightweight and women’s middleweight, where ONLY Americans had entered. The 2006 US Sumo Open lightweight silver medalist, Munkhjargal Ulziibayar (“Muugii”) fought an epic 5-minute match against the 2006 lightweight gold medalist, Erdenebileg Alagdaa (“Bilegee”). In 2006, Bilegee overcame his countryman Muugii, in a 3-minute struggle, but this year, Muugii prevailed in a virtual identical (but even longer) performance by these two front runners.
In 2006, Mongolian Zoljargal Ulziisaikhan (“Zola”) lost in the quarter-finals, but this year, he made it to the finals, and defeated Dan Kalbfleisch, who had beaten Zola in an earlier round in 2006. So, Zola, continued the Mongolian sweep with a middleweight gold medal. World Champion, Byambajav Ulambayar (“Byamba”) clinched his two gold medals with seeming ease. In both the heavyweight and openweight competitions, his opponent in the final match was Bulgaria’s Petar Stoyanov, who has won many European Sumo Championships, and attained several medals at the World Championships. Although Petar towered over Byamba in size, Byamba defeated him in just one second with a side step, in their first encounter. The second face-off was not much longer, as Byamba surprised Petar with speed and non-stop thrusting, forcing the larger man backwards and out.
While all men’s gold medals went to Mongolians, the one foreign female, Dashdulam Sambuu (“Dashka”) of Mongolia, mirrored Byamba’s success, winning gold medals in heavyweight and openweight. So, in every class that they entered, the Mongolians got gold!
The lone American man to win a medal was middleweight Dan Kalbfleisch, who lost in the final match to Zola, so Dan settled for silver. In his first competition in 2005, Dan tied for last in his bracket, and did not advance. In 2006, Dan made it to the semi-finals. So, Dan has progressed steadily, to make it to the 2007 finals. Is he the lone American hope?
Among the women, Florence Kinslow stood out, capturing the middleweight gold and the openweight silver, being bested only by champion Dashka. Despite losing to many larger women, American lightweight Michelle Pike displayed great bravery, and did win the lightweight gold medal.
The international sumo judges set high standards in maintaining a fair competitive environment. They represented four nations — Kairi Kuur (Estonia), Koji Makiyama (Japan), Davaadorj Damdin (Mongolia), and Jeff Riddle (USA). They all have impressive sumo credentials, especially Kairi, who has judged at the World Championships, and Koji, who spent 13 years in professional Japanese sumo.
The story of the day, though, was referee Doug Cochran, who may have set a world record, refereeing 108 sumo matches in a row, in a single day! While professional referees just do a handful of matches a day, even international competitions feature multiple referees, who switch off every few matches. When one of the two referees did not show up due to an emergency, Doug was forced to officiate sumo matches almost continuously for over 6 consecutive hours!
POTENTIAL FOR 2008
If there is sufficient support and public interest, it may be possible to return to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a rather large venue, in the future. The fan reaction has been positive, and many media stories gave great reviews, as well. Will we see Byamba hold on to his undefeated record and gold medals next time? Stay tuned . . .