|Did you know that there are female sumo wrestlers in Mongolia? Not many know this because it’s a relatively new sport for women. Until recently, women were forbidden to enter or even touch the dohyo (wrestling ring) as it was seen as a taboo that would desecrate the purity of the dohyo. Many criticized and challenged the Japanese Sumo Association’s men-only policy, and after countless trials and attempts, female sumo became a sport that can only take place under amateur settings.
Kh.Sunjidmaa is the first female sumo wrestler to become the world champion twice. She spoke about what it is like to be a female sumo wrestler and other sumo related issues in the interview below.
You were nominated for Best Female Athlete of the Year award in this year’s Burte Chono Annual Awards, organized in January. What was your impression of the award ceremony?
It wasn’t as pleasant as I thought it would be. A couple of people were invited and awards were presented to them. I thought the Burte Chono Awards was a huge and grand event while watching it on television before. The Burte Chono Awards of previous years had a lot more guests but this year’s felt a little bit boring.
Most people expected you to attend the ceremony with your coach but you didn’t. Wasn’t he nominated for Best Coach of the Year award?
Yes, that’s true. He was busy. My current coach is the one who guided me into sumo and made it possible for me to succeed.
Is it true that you used to do sambo and judo?
Yes. I entered Mongol Ohid Club for sambo judo when it was first opened by State Honored Coach and State Nachin (a traditional wrestling title) S.Erdenebat. I was trained under him and International Sports Master G.Bazarsuren. Back then, I participated in the Sumo National Championships and Asian Sumo Championships and my team won a bronze medal from the Sumo World Championships. I haven’t deviated from this path since.
Individually, I won a bronze medal, and in a team, silver medal at the 2005 Sumo World Championships. I won a bronze medal when the 2010 Sumo World Championships was hosted in Poland, silver when it was hosted in Hong Kong in 2012, and another bronze medal at the 2014 Sumo World Championships. In the last two World Championships, I seized gold medals.
Who is in charge of your training now?
I’m being trained by coach G.Naranbat, who used to be a professional sumo wrestler himself. He is a two-time World Amateur Sumo champion, who won the championships in 2008 and 2012. He also won a silver medal in 2009 and took a gold medal in the open class of the 2013 World Games.
What did you think of sumo when you first tried it out?
I sucked at it; probably because I didn’t have any experience. The first thing I tried to do was to win with the first move. I tried getting a good grip and push my opponent out of the ring but now it’s different. The most important thing is to get up properly and be balanced. If you can do your first move (getting up) well, you can easily push your opponent out of the ring. I can’t execute various types of techniques so I rely more on my power and strength.
How strong are you?
I feel like I have as much power as my weight. Since I weigh a lot, I guess I am pretty strong.
Do you use power training to increase your overall strength?
No, but other female sumo wrestlers from different countries seem to do power training.
In what way are you different from foreign female sumo wrestlers?
European women have bigger body builds but they don’t have as much power. There is a sumo wrestler named Anna in another weight class and she dominates her weight class. Japanese female sumo wrestlers, on the other hand, are only good at rushing towards their opponent. Once you get a firm grip while they rush towards you, it’s very easy to take them down. Lately, Ukrainian athletes have been becoming stronger. All they do is sumo. The Ukrainian government supports their families with everything they need so sumo wrestlers don’t have to worry about a thing and are free to concentrate on their training. They also hired a Japanese coach since it’s much more efficient to be trained by a native.
Was your family supportive when you told them that you were going to become a sumo wrestler? Or did they oppose?
I was able to come thus far all thanks to my supportive husband. He is a sports maniac and is especially enthusiastic about wrestling. He wanted a wrestler wife so much that he made me his wife. Several years after our marriage, my husband told me that marrying a wrestler was one of his many dreams. He then told me that his next dream was to have a son. This was two years ago, and back then, we didn’t know when that would happen.
At the time, I was also considering quitting sumo but my husband stopped me; saying that I must become a world champion and encouraged me that I could definitely become a champion and even receive the State Honored Athlete title. A year later, my husband’s dream came true and our son was born. My parents strongly supported my ambition to become a professional sumo wrestler way before I got married.
Most Mongolians don’t know that women are competing in sumo as well. You didn’t get much coverage when you became world champion last year. Have you felt disappointed from the lack of attention?
It is quite upsetting. The public hardly pays attention to non-Olympic sports. Last year, I landed in Mongolia together with the national judo team at Chinggis Khaan International Airport. I had just won the World Championship so I assumed all the people running towards me wanted to congratulate me but they passed right by me and my coach who was next to me. Later, the Mongolian National Broadcaster featured my success and my colleagues and friends who saw it congratulated me.
The state awards cash prizes to athletes who win medals at the World Championships? Do you receive cash prizes from the state?
I received a small cash prize when I won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sumo World Championships. I’m not sure how much I got from how much I was supposed to get but in the end, I stopped caring.
Why is that so?
It’s so funny how they hand it out. Sometimes, I get 100,000 MNT transferred to my account a month and on some occasions, I get 50,000 MNT. This monetary support was supposed to end two years ago yet it ended just recently because the amount transferred every month was inconsistent. Last year’s cash prize is nowhere to be found. The state isn’t interested in us because we compete in a non-Olympic sport. Since the state isn’t obliged to financially support me, I’m not paying too much attention to this matter.
To where have you traveled to for competitions? Do you cover your own travel costs?
I’ve gone to Japan, Taiwan and several European countries. My husband runs a private business so he’s able to sponsor me. My family tagged along when I went to participate in last year’s World Championship. My eldest daughter was weeping when I came out of the ring right after winning the final match.
Have you ever regretted not continuing to train in sambo and judo?
No, but my husband often says that I would’ve made an uproar had I become a judoka. Even so, judo isn’t for everyone. If it doesn’t suit someone, it’s really hard to continue doing it.
Is it true that you are studying?
Last year, I won an international amateur sumo competition, held in Japan. After that, I trained at the Japanese sumo wrestling school that coach G.Naranbat graduated from. The director of that school invited me to study there so I’m planning to live in Japan with my family and study there for four years. I wanted to improve my language skills before traveling to Japan in March. While studying, I will represent the Japanese school at every local competition I take part in.
I noticed that the school I will enroll in doesn’t have skilled female sumo wrestlers. The best two wrestlers were very small. I’m not sure if they will be able to handle training with me so I will probably always train with the men. Male sumo wrestlers will be worthy training partners because they seemed to be strong and heavy.
Have you wrestled with Mongolian male sumo wrestlers?
No. I watched Hakuho M.Davaajargal and Ichinojo A.Ichinnorov’s matches during the 2015 World Championship and I’m sure that I’m no match for them.
But I did wrestle with Mongolian State Honored Athlete and Darkhan Avarga A.Sukhbat, State Elephant Ch.Batzorig and Ts.Myagmarsuren while training at Zuunkharaa Resort in Selenge Province in 2002. They were preparing to participate in an international amateur sumo competition back then.
How serious are the injuries inflicted during your training?
You regularly get injured since sumo is a contact sport. The most common injury is thumb strains. You can put it back to normal in no time. Now, I’m so used to finger sprains. Lately, I’ve started wrapping my fingers together before matches.
Countless women are trying desperately to lose weight. Do you have this kind of thought?
I used to think about it all the time and it stressed me so much that I gained more weight. Nowadays, I stopped caring. People hardly talk about my weight because they know I’m a sumo wrestler and understand that I need to be big. It’s advantageous to weigh a lot for sumo wrestlers. That’s why, I don’t think about slimming down now.