Ukrainian amateur sumo wrestlers to train in Japan ahead of World Games

Amateur sumo wrestlers from Ukraine visited their embassy in Tokyo on Tuesday as they vowed to make their war-stricken country proud at the July World Games in the United States.

Ukraine’s eight-member delegation arrived in Japan on Thursday after finding it increasingly difficult to train at home amid the Russian invasion. The wrestlers will train in June in Oita and Ehime prefectures in western Japan before flying out for the event, which focuses on non-Olympic sports.

Amateur sumo wrestlers from Ukraine are pictured at the Ukrainian Embassy in Tokyo on May 31, 2022. (Kyodo)

“Now is the time to give it your all with the struggling Ukraine,” said 33-year-old Oleksandr Veresiuk, who finished third at the 2018 and 2019 world championships in different weight classes.

According to the team, the shelling in Kharkiv, near their training base, began shortly after the February 24 invasion began. In March, the team asked a Japanese acquaintance to help them prepare for the World Games.

“I’m sure the wrestlers would have been hurt if we had stayed another day,” said 60-year-old coach Liubov Korobko.

Their first training site, Usa in Oita Prefecture, is known as the birthplace of the great yokozuna Futabayama, whose 69 consecutive victories in the 1930s remain a record in the ancient sport.

Seiyo in Ehime Prefecture, where the team will train from mid-June, hosts the annual Otoi tournament, the only tournament in Japan where amateur and professional wrestlers face off and dates back to the days of ‘Edo.

“I want to push myself to the places where sumo culture was born and achieve good results at the World Games,” said 31-year-old wrestler Ivanna Berezovska.

About 3,000 people in Ukraine are engaged in sumo wrestling. Shishi, a 25-year-old player whose real name is Serhii Sokolovskyi, currently wrestles in the third-tier makushita division of professional sumo.