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'Sumo is beautiful': Estonian Baruto Kaito's rough road to the top

Sumo wrestler Baruto (Mainichi)
Sumo wrestler Baruto (Mainichi)

"It hasn't sunk in yet," said Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito, 25, referring to his scheduled promotion to ozeki, the second highest rank among professional sumo wrestlers.

Born in the former Soviet bloc republic of Estonia, Baruto, whose real name is Kaido Hoovelson, made his debut as a professional sumo wrestler at the age of 19. Due to his unique and friendly character, he is always popular among other sumo wrestlers in the dressing room at sumo arenas. In addition to Japanese, Baruto, who just got married last year, is fluent in Russian and German.

With a height of 198 centimeters and a weight of 188 kilograms, the European athlete may have a physical advantage as a sumo wrestler. However, the road to his success was neither quick nor effortless.

His father was a cattle farmer, and Baruto helped his family with heavy labor since his childhood.

"I had never thought it was painful because I knew how hard our family business was," he recalls.

When he was 16, Baruto started practicing judo and became a national junior champion; however, after his father passed away around the same time, he had to start working as a bar bouncer to earn a living.

"I faced danger many times," he reflects on the difficult situation.

Baruto's life, however, changed drastically when he shifted his focus from judo to sumo under the instruction of his judo master, who guided the young Estonian boy to a second-place finish in the European junior sumo championships. As a result, he was recruited to become an amateur sumo wrestler in Japan, and during the summer tournament in 2004, he made his debut as professional sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito.

"The training was really tough, but it was like a hobby for me," says Baruto, who has overcome a series of injuries on his left knee.

"He is the first one to come to training in the morning," says Kazumi Chikazawa, 68, owner of the Onoe Stable's training facility in Osaka Prefecture.

He is a hard worker and a devoted son, who sends part of his salary to his mother in his home country.

Asked why he wanted to become a sumo wrestler soon after he joined the sumo world as an apprentice, Baruto replied to reporters, "Sumo is beautiful."

Today, he expresses concerns over the future of his beloved sport, saying: "I want to contribute to reviving the popularity of sumo, and I want more children to like it."

(Mainichi Japan) March 29, 2010

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