Statue of Yokozuna Taiho
May 29, 1940
Shikuka, Karafuto, Empire of Japan
|Died||January 19, 2013 (aged 72)|
Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
|Height||1.87 m (6 ft 1 1⁄2 in)|
|Weight||153 kg (340 lb; 24.1 st)|
Taiho, Dominant Postwar Sumo Champ, Dies at 72
Jiji Press/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: January 22, 2013
Taiho, widely considered the greatest sumo wrestler of postwar Japan despite the fact that he weighed scarcely more than 300 pounds, died on Saturday in Tokyo. He was 72.
Kyodo News, via Associated Press
His death, of heart failure, was announced by the Japanese Sumo Association. Taiho, who made his debut in the mid-1950s, dominated his sport until the early ’70s. Standing about 6 feet 1 and weighing about 220 pounds at the start of his career, he was a sylph of sumo, relying on skill more than heft to win matches.
Later on he competed at about 320 pounds, a figure that was then unremarkable and is today, in an era when sumo wrestlers can exceed 500 pounds, negligible.
A ruggedly handsome man adored by a generation of Japanese women and girls (Emperor Hirohito was also said to be a fan), Taiho retired in 1971 with a career record of 746-144-136.
Taiho, whose Japanese name was Koki Naya, won the Emperor’s Cup 32 times. The cup, an immense silver trophy awarded to the champion of sumo’s top division, has long been the most coveted prize in Japanese sports.
The son of a Japanese mother and a Ukrainian father, Taiho was born Ivan Boryshko on May 29, 1940, on Sakhalin Island, off the east coast of Siberia. Sakhalin had been colonized by both the Soviet Union and Japan; at the end of World War II, the Soviets gained control of the island and Ivan and his mother were repatriated to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s major islands.
His father, an anti-Communist who had fled his homeland for Sakhalin after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, was apparently arrested. The family never learned his fate; years later, touring the Soviet Union as a sumo star, Taiho reportedly sought his father’s whereabouts to no avail.
He began his sumo career in 1956 and soon afterward took the ring name Taiho, which roughly translates as “Great Phoenix.” In 1960, when he won his first Emperor’s Cup at 20, he was believed to be the youngest champion in sumo’s 2,000-year history.
The next year Taiho became a yokozuna, or grand master; at the time he was the youngest sumo wrestler to do so. Other highlights of his career include a 45-match unbeaten streak in the late 1960s.
After retiring from the sport, Taiho ran his own sumo stable. At 36 he had a stroke, but he recovered with intensive rehabilitation.
His record of 32 Emperor’s Cups remains unbroken to this day.