29-5-1940 - 19-1-2013
By MARGALIT FOX
TAIHO, widely considered the greatest sumo wrestler of postwar Japan despite the fact that he weighed scarcely more than 135 kilograms, has died of heart failure in Tokyo. He was 72.
Taiho, who made his debut in the mid-1950s, dominated his sport until the early 1970s. Standing about 1.85 metres and weighing about 100 kilograms at the start of his career, he was a sylph of sumo, relying on skill more than heft to win matches.
Later on he competed at about 145 kilograms, a figure that was then unremarkable and is today, in an era when sumo wrestlers can exceed 225 kilograms, negligible.
A ruggedly handsome man adored by a generation of Japanese women and girls (Emperor Hirohito was also said to be a fan), Taiho retired in 1971.
Taiho, whose Japanese name was Koki Naya, won the Emperor's Cup 32 times. The cup, an immense silver trophy awarded to the champion of sumo's top division, has long been the most coveted prize in all of Japanese sport.
The son of a Japanese mother and a Ukrainian father, Taiho was born Ivan Boryshko on Sakhalin Island, off the east coast of Siberia. Sakhalin had been colonised by the Soviet Union and Japan; at the end of World War II, the Soviets gained control of the island and Ivan and his mother were repatriated to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's major islands.
His father, an anti-communist who had fled his homeland for Sakhalin after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, was apparently arrested. The family never learnt his fate; years later, touring the Soviet Union as a sumo star, Taiho reportedly sought his father's whereabouts to no avail.
He began his sumo career in 1956 and soon afterwards took the ring name Taiho, which roughly translates as "Great Phoenix". In 1960, when he won his first Emperor's Cup at 20, he was believed to be the youngest champion in sumo's 2000-year history.
The next year Taiho became a yokozuna, or grand master; at the time he was the youngest sumo wrestler to do so. Other highlights of his career include a 45-match unbeaten streak in the late 1960s.
After retiring from the sport, Taiho ran his own sumo stable. At 36 he had a stroke, but he recovered with intensive rehabilitation.
His record of 32 Emperor's cups remains unbroken to this day.