by Selwyn Manning in conjunction with Counties Manukau Sport Monthly
A Sumo wrestling contingent has returned from the inaugural world junior champs in Japan with two internationally ranked competitors.
After competing against over 100 teams from all over the globe, two of Counties Manukau’s four Sumo hopes from Mangere College certainly turned heads.
Tupu Saena and Terariki Ngutu, both aged 16 years, excelled in their weight/categories.
Saena, a lightweight in the under 75kgs category, finished second in the worlds competition. His power-to-weight-ratio took his competitors by surprise. And even in the final fight, Saena almost pulled off a world first performance.
His ability was so impressive it turned the heads of Japanese professional selectors looking for talent to be taught the age-old-art of Sumo.
A Japanese “stable-master” liked Saena’s strength and technique. He offered that should Saena decide not to compete in the 2008 Olympics [where Sumo will be an official Olympic sport] the Japanese master would like to train him for the professional arena.
And if both Saena and Ngutu prove themselves next year, the Japanese will reward their consistency with a scholarship at a Tokyo university and then onto professional competition.
Ngutu was also impressive competing in the unlimited open weight category. He finished eighth in the worlds competition after showing power, strength and technique can equip a Counties Manukau Sumo with what he needs to beat the heavy boys.
And HEAVY is what some of the competitors were. Take one 17 year old from Japan. He weighed in at over 170kgs!
The champs are coached by Sonny Parsons, a former New Zealand heavyweight champion and member of the New Zealand team which finished fifth in the 1997 world champs.
Parsons says what his team lacked in size they made up in attitude and “heart”: “Our team had heart,” he says.
The August 21st competition in Tokyo Japan was a huge building experience for the New Zealand team of four competitors. Parsons says especially for Saena and Ngutu who discovered they have what it takes to compete amongst the very best Sumos the world has to offer.
The junior world champs were fought out at the very stadium where the world’s top professionals compete.
The atmosphere was tense.
Parsons gathered the boys for a team talk. Then he approached each team member as they fight-time closed in: “I pointed out their strengths and the things they needed to be careful of,” Parsons says.
His goal as a coach was for all his team members to have a win. And three out of the four team members won in the first round. Only three New Zealanders in the history of senior Sumo have ever won in the first round: “And we did that in one competition,” Parsons says.
Saena says: “I felt really nervous, even a little scared. I looked around and thought that I might be small. It was my first time being in the ring. It looked too hard.”
But once inside the ring, Saena realised that he “could do it”: “I thought, this is easy. And then I just did it.”
He puts his success down to a sheer desire to win: “I wanted that medal,” Saena says. “I will keep on with the Sumo, keep training and working hard for future competitions. I need to put more weight on cause I’m too light.”
Team-mate Ngutu says he felt nervous as well: “I wanted to win the first fight, that was my main target, so we were mentally prepared. And now we are back the reaction has been pretty good, everyone is saying ‘well done, top effort’ and all that.”
From here, Ngutu wants to gain more experience to become an even better fighter in next year’s National competitions and possibly a Hawaii tournament during the New Zealand summer.
What was learned? Parsons: “Definitely improvements, there is always lots that we can build on, the head positioning for example. But the mental game that was accomplished at this tournament was amazing.
“Now when these boys fight in the Oceania’s and the Nationals they can take it all on alot easier than anyone else because they have been to the worlds, and the next time they fight in the Nationals they will be able to concentrate more on themselves rather than worrying about everything else that goes on around them.”
World Championship Wins: Terariki Ngutu (left Coach
Sonny Parsons (centre) and Tupu Saena (right) returned with
medals and world placings this week from the World Junior
Sumo Championships in Tokyo Japan.