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Terao


Terao

Matt Wilce

Known to his fans as the "Eternal Typhoon," "Go-for-broke Kid" and the "Tom Jones of sumo," Terao is undoubtedly one of the most popular sumo wrestlers ever. Even when you can' clearly see the slight-by sumo standards-figure from the cheap seats at the back of the stadium, you know by the screaming applause of adoring female fans Terao, clad only in his burgundy mawashi belt, has entered the ring. Terao-whose real name is Yoshifumi Fukuzono-entered sumo in July 1979, rather unusually, taking the maiden name of his recently deceased mother as his shikona (fighting name). This was an admirable tribute, with the added benefit that "Terao" doesn't have a specific translation, unlike Akebono (Dawn) or Wakanohana. (Young Flower.)

Weighing a mere 114kg (257lb) he is the third lightest wrestler, but standing 186cm (6'0") tall, means he has one of the more attractive physiques in the sport, although he claims to hanker after a body like Musashimaru; solid, with a low center of gravity. Because he doesn't have much weight to throw around, Terao resorts to techniques that involve nimbly dodging his opponent in the hope he can catch him off balance. Using the hatakikomi move, grabbing anything - arms, shoulders, neck - he trys to pull them down. In an effort to prevent the rival grabbing his belt and literally lifting him out of the dohyo (ring), Terao is renowned for his flailing-arm, windmill impressions, officially known as the tsuppari slapping, thrusting technique, an approach which often pays off. Not only has he beaten such formidable opponents as Chiyotaikai, Musoyama and Takanonami, but also the massive Hawaiian, Musashimaru, whose body he covets. Over the years, Terao has been awarded a number of prizes by the JSA (Japan Sumo Association) three times for "Fighting Spirit" and "Outstanding Performance" and once for "Technique."

But his Tsuppari style has also resulted in severe wrist damage, and in 1994, x-rays revealed his bodily weapons are comparable to a 70-year-old's. As a consequence his wrists are always bandaged, even for daily practice: push-ups, eye-watering splits and squats with a rookie sitting on his shoulders.

Paradoxically, Terao claims not to like sumo and is quoted as saying "It's just a job; a way to earn a living."

Yet at 37, he is the oldest sumo wrestler with the longest professional fighting career. He modestly attributes his longevity to the constant influx of enthusiastic youngsters into his training stable, Izutsu Beya, and still intends to remain active as long as possible.

And who can say how much longer that will be? Certainly his numerous, ardent fans hope it will be for another 22 years, but then what? Possibly he will become an Oyakata - training stable master or coach - like his father and older brother, or work in his restaurant, surprisingly called "Terao Chanko," which is adorned with family sumo pictures and currently run by another older brother, also a former wrestler.

But one thing is certain; he would like to get married. And don't think only Japanese women need apply. He told a Sumo World reporter: "As long as she's a nice woman, I don't mind what nationality she is." But in all likelihood Mrs Eternal Typhoon will probably be a gorgeous Japanese TV announcer, model or flight attendant, like most of the other sumo wives.

Cathy Frances

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