Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Lovlina Borgohain chases boxing history at home of sumo wrestling

WHEN SHE strides out of the tunnel on the Kokugikan Area Wednesday, Lovlina Borgohain will try to go the place no different Indian boxer has been earlier than.

Avenue-smart and daring, Lovlina has assured herself of a bronze medal by making it to the semifinals in welterweight. However the 23-year-old has set her sights on gold. And he or she is aware of that towards Turkey’s Busenaz Surmeneli, her aggressive world champion opponent, it can require a sumo-sized efficiency — in an area that’s dwelling to Japanese sumo wrestling.

Driving via downtown Tokyo, previous the bay space, crisscrossing among the stadiums that resemble sci-fi film units, you attain the outdated metropolis’s sumo-obsessed neighborhood of Ryogoku.

It’s a world unto itself. The sprawling six-lane freeway converges right into a slim two-way lane dotted by eating places, which promote ‘yokozuna burgers’, on one facet and sumo stables, just like akharas throughout Haryana, on the opposite. There’s graffiti of sumo wrestlers via the road, museums and retailers that promote posters with touts seeking to make a fast buck.

In the direction of the tip, a tiny gate opens as much as the shrine-like Kokugikan Area. “That is the house of Japanese sumo wrestling,” says Yoshitaka Tsuchiya, who works with the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, Japan’s sumo affiliation.

Japanese sumo wrestling historical past has been written and rewritten for many years at this venue, which has been reworked right into a boxing area for the Olympics.

It’s a frightening area, though it’s largely empty throughout bouts. Portraits of 32 rikishis (skilled sumo wrestlers) hold from the roof, bearing down on the boxers on this bull-ring fashion area with brilliant pink interiors.

Someplace beneath the ring the place the boxers spar is the “dohyo”, a pit made from clay and rice straw bales during which the sumos wrestle. A roof just like that of a Shinto shrine, which is raised throughout a sumo match, has given strategy to an enormous metal body.

Tsuchiya says sumo wrestling is extra than simply brute drive and large bellies. “It’s an artwork, a sport steeped in wealthy custom,” he says. “For example, earlier than coming into the pit, the wrestlers throw salt on it. We consider throwing salt brings success. They’ve been doing this for the reason that Edo dynasty, for 170-180 years.”

Throughout a sumo wrestling event, often known as “honbashos”, the stadium seems vastly totally different. Spectators must take away their footwear, sit on the ground within the big field seats, and chomp on “yakitori” — just like a hen lollipop — together with beer.

“Yakitori is a signature dish on the menu throughout a honbasho,” Tsuchiya says. “Rooster walks on two legs. And through a sumo wrestling match, for those who put your arms on the bottom, you lose. You must be on each your ft always. So it’s believed that two-legged animals can convey success.”

Exterior the world, the “two-legged” fowl is offered all over the place. Not within the type of “yakitori” however as a stew that Tsuchiya says known as “chankonabe”. It types the primary a part of a sumo wrestler’s weight loss program. Their coaching begins on empty stomachs, adopted by a noon meal consisting of as much as 10 bowls of rice, beer, and “chankonabe”. The wrestlers are inspired to sleep after lunch, and one other huge meal is obtainable at night time.

The official sumo event takes place yearly. Actually, skilled wrestling matches came about simply earlier than the Olympics as nicely and had been attended by “1000’s of followers”.

Kokugigan hosts three or 4 “honbashos” yearly and the portrait of the winner goes up on the partitions of the stadium.

“For the remainder of the 12 months, the world is used for lots of various functions,” Tsuchiya says. “Essentially the most fascinating occasion lately was a Paul McCartney live performance and earlier than that, a vogue present. The venue additionally hosts professional wrestling and boxing matches, basketball video games, and gymnastics and desk tennis occasions.”

For Lovlina then, the jab at historical past will come inside an area steeped in it.

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