Akebono to perform 'dohyo-iri' at Olympic opening

Yokozuna Akebono will perform sumo's ring ''purification'' ritual at the opening ceremony of the 18th Olympic Winter Games next week, replacing fellow grand champion Takanohana who has been felled with an acute case of bronchitis.

The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) informed Nagano Olympic organizers Wednesday that Takanohana, who was hospitalized recently with bronchitis and a liver ailment, will not be well enough to perform at the Feb. 7 opening ceremony at Minami Nagano Sports Park.

The JSA also said that Takanohana would not be ready to march at the head of the Japanese delegation in the opening ceremony's parade of nations, designating ozeki Wakanohana, the grand champion's older brother, to lead in the host Olympic team.

As sumo's top-ranked wrestler, Takanohana had been scheduled to perform the ''dohyo-iri'' ring-entering ritual, which symbolically calls for the attention of the gods and chases the evil spirits from the raised ring.

Akebono, who is also a grand champion but steps onto the ring from the less-prestigious west side of the ring for a sumo bout, was to have marched in front of the delegation from Greece, which as the birthplace of the Olympics traditionally is the first delegation in the procession of nations.

Plans for the opening ceremony, however, had to be changed when Takanohana pulled out of the recent New Year Grand Sumo Tournament and checked into a Tokyo hospital with a fever hovering around 38 degrees Celsius.

On Wednesday, the JSA decided that they could not allow their top wrestler perform at the open air stadium wearing only his sumo sash and a ceremonial apron made of heavy silk brocade.

''In his condition, it would be impossible (for Takanohana to perform the dohyo-iri). We're concerned what impact it might have had on him later,'' said sumo elder Hanaregoma, JSA deputy director of public relations.

The Hawaiian-born Akebono was tabbed for the dohyo-iri ritual while Wakanohana was selected to march for Japan. Ozeki Takanonami, meanwhile, was named to lead the Greek delegation into the stadium.

The JSA also said that Wakanohana and Takanonami would also lead in the delegations from Israel and Ireland, respectively, as had already been decided at a drawing held in late December to determine which wrestlers would march before which delegations.

Akebono's attendants for the dohyo-iri -- a sword-bearer and dew-sweeper -- will remain Takatoriki and Akinoshima, who hail from Takanohana's Futagoyama stable.

In other changes announced by the JSA, former komusubi Kyokushuzan will get to march with his native Mongolia while up-and-coming juryo wrestler Kaigatake will head Kazakstan.

New wrestlers were also named to lead in Bulgaria (Wakanoyama, replacing Oginohana), Croatia (Fukuzono, replacing Asahisato), Kyrgyzstan (Tomoefuji), Kenya (Ohinode) and Venezuela (Higonoumi). (Kyodo News)

(January 28, 1998)