The Japanese government announced that it will give the People’s Honor Award to sumo champ Taiho, who died in January at the age of 72.
He is only the second sumo wrestler to receive the People’s Honor Award from the Japanese government and that shows just how highly Taiho was thought of.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Taiho, whose real name was Koki Naya, was a “national hero loved by lots of people, giving society hopes, dreams and courage.”
The only other wrestler, out of a total of 21 recipients of the prize, was former yokozuna (sumo’s highest rank) Chiyonofuji Mitsugu who was honored in 1989.
With a stellar record, Taiho was regarded as a pure sumo wrestler who believed in and relished the sumo way of life, centered on humility and hard work.
Chiyonofuji said after Taiho’s death that he was a special competitor.
“He embodied alone sumo history,” Chiyonofuji said. Taiho’s achievements were special, not least because he won a record 32 tournaments in his career.
Taiho was born in 1940 on the Russian island of Sakhalin, which was then part of the Japanese empire, to a Japanese mother and a Ukrainian father.
When the Russians retook the island in 1945, the boy and his mother were repatriated to Hokkaido while his anti-communist father disappeared. When Taiho later embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union, he reportedly tried to find information about his father but was unsuccessful.
He started wrestling in 1956 before drawing the curtains on a stellar career in 1971.
His achievements during that time were and, still are, legendary for a man who was by no means the biggest in sumo in terms of physique. What he lacked in bulk, at a relatively trim 300 pounds, he made up for in ability.
When he reached the rank of yokozuna, he was then the youngest ever to do so, at just over 21 years old.
He had an amazing 45-match winning streak in the 1960s. This sequence ended in a defeat that based on a controversial decision by judges, which led to the introduction of video replays in the sport.
After retiring from active wrestling, he remained tied to the sport, founding his own stable.
In an era when sumo’s popularity is on the wane, Taiho will be will be remembered by millions of fans as the classic representative of the sport.