Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj
Possessing the strength to lift an entire nation

From England's Beowulf to Japan's Momotaro, every culture on earth celebrates the hero who travels far, endures hardships, fights valiantly—and emerges victorious. No wonder, then, that one of the world's top sumo wrestlers, a 22-year-old Mongolian named Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, has achieved a status in his country to rival that of the great Khans. His life is a modern embodiment of the warrior's journey.

Born to a storied wrestling family (his father and two of his brothers are high-ranking Mongolian wrestlers), Dagvadorj traveled to Japan at age 16 to chart his own course. There, he entered the grueling, spartan world of the sumo stable, and as all professional sumo wrestlers on the rise must, traded in his identity for a new name: "Asashoryu" (Blue Dragon of the Morning). In a sport dominated by gigantic power wrestlers, the relatively light Asashoryu has made quickness and deft execution of difficult moves his signature style. Last November he won his first national championship in only his 24th tournament since his 1999 debut, tying the record for the swiftest ascent in modern sumo history. Upon winning the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January, Asashoryu rose to the sport's highest rank: yokozuna (literally "grand champion")—the first non-Japanese or non-American to do so.

The boost Asashoryu has given to Mongolian national pride can hardly be overstated. "He gives hope and aspiration to all Mongolian people," says Batakhuu Ganbaatar, an air-traffic controller in Ulan Bator. Asashoryu feels keenly the burden of his homeland's expectations. "A yokozuna is expected to win all the time," he told Time four days after his promotion. "A yokozuna is not allowed to lose."

Unfortunately, that's exactly what he did in his next appearance, finishing the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March tied for second with a disappointing 10-5 record. Urgently needing to rebuff the naysayers already claiming he doesn't deserve his lofty title, Asashoryu's trials suddenly seem far from over. This warrior's journey has only just begun.

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