Japan’s first Arab sumo wrestler, Osunaarashi, or “Great Sandstorm,” has become the first person from Africa to be promoted to the historic sport’s second-highest ranking. The 21 year old Egyptian, whose real name is Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, was recognized by the Japan Sumo Association on Wednesday as reaching the jyuryo division, which will also see him recognized as a sekitori, or a wrestler between the ranks of 43rd and 70th.
Having only made his debut as a sumo wrestler last March, after dropping out of college, where he was studying accounting, the devoted Muslim has only lost six out of his 49 matches throughout seven tournaments. At 189 centimeters (6 feet, 2 inches) tall, and 145 kilograms (320 pounds), Shaalan says he is very happy at becoming the first of his background to make it this far. He adds that he plans to continue practicing and working to climb the ranks.
Describing last year how he manages to adhere to the traditional Muslim rituals of avoiding pork and alcohol, and praying five times daily, Shaalan explained how he still observes the Islamic holy time of Ramadan while the maintaining the necessary training schedules for the sumo lifestyle. Ramadan calls for no eating or drinking during the daylight hours, but this year’s period will conflict with a scheduled tournament in July. Shaalan says he can handle the clashing of his two lifestyles, even with the fact that his new promotion means he must wrestle 15 times in each competition, as opposed to only seven from his previous standing.
Tadahiro Otake, the manager of the sumo stable that Shaalan belongs to, says the young wrestler’s rapid achievement is impressive, but he can’t let the success go to his head. “He has not got strong all by himself but with the help of many other people. I hope he will never forget this,” Otake said, adding, “I want him to draw attention with his brand of sumo, not because he is the first from the African continent.”
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