Paralyzed Hibikiryu Dies at 28 Years Old

It has been over a month since the shocking accident that rendered Sandanme wrestler Hibikiryu paralyzed atop the Haru Basho dohyo. During the time that has elapsed, little information on his condition has come out, except for the fact that he had not left the hospital and was still unable to move his body from the neck down. The sumo association revealed on Thursday that Hibikiryu had died at 6:20pm on Wednesday due to medical complications. He had turned 28 just nine days before the accident occurred.

On day 13 of the 2021 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, Sandanme #65 Hibikiryu of Sakaigawa-beya mounted the clay to face Sandanme #63 Imafuku of Nishonoseki-beya who would end up being his final opponent. In the match, Hibikiryu was thrown with sukuinage (scoop throw), which instead of rolling him over sent him diving head first to the ground. The resulting impact on his spine left him face down and motionless for an agonizing period of time as ushers and officials slowly realized he had not actually been knocked unconscious, but was simply unable to move.

After a little over one month in the hospital, Hibikiryu succumbed to a sudden onset of respiratory failure. At only 28, he died at the same age as Shobushi, who in May 2020 became sumo’s first (and so far only) active wrestler to die of COVID-19 complications.

Hibikiryu (real name Amano Mitsuki) was born on March 17, 1993 in Yamaguchi-prefecture in Western Japan. He began sumo wrestling in high school and entered the pros through Sakaigawa Stable in March 2011. His highest rank was Sandanme #24.

May he rest in peace.

In the brutal world of sumo, a rikishi who has been knocked out is usually expected to get up and complete his ritual duties (bowing out, etc.) with little-to-no assistance, all while standing 3 feet above ground level. This tradition has been scrutinized by spectators, especially those from countries not accustomed to such old-fashioned approaches to sport. Sumo is clearly steeped in Shinto tradition and viewed by many “traditionalists” as combat between warriors rather than just athletes. This creates a disconnect between modern audiences that value safety first, and an aging governing body that is mostly concerned with upholding old rules. As a result, Hibikiryu’s dire situation was met with slow, unprepared, and unqualified medical assistance.

Could better first aid have prevented the severity of his condition or the death that followed? The answer to that is unsure. But what must be understood is that any sport that involves possible compression to the spine, especially those that require flipping upside-down can result in a spinal injury.

“Catastrophic spine injuries in sports are rare but tragic events. The sports with the highest risk of catastrophic spinal injuries are football, ice hockey, wrestling, diving, skiing and snowboarding, rugby, cheerleading, and baseball. A common mechanism of injury for all at-risk sports is an axial compression force to the top of the head with the neck slightly flexed.”

Current Sports Medicine Reports: February 2005 – Volume 4 – Issue 1 – p 45-49

Therefore, although better first aid must be implemented in professional sumo, blame for Hibikiryu’s paralysis and death may not actually fall on the Japan Sumo Association. Instead the sport of sumo which involves judo-esque throwing techniques must be taken up with the knowledge of its inherent danger.

In good news: Juryo wrestler Azumaryu of Tamanoi Stable has been discharged from the hospital, having been admitted for coronavirus. His symptoms have improved, but Stablemaster Tamanoi says Azumaryu’s participation in Natsu Basho is still unsure.

Source: Nikkan Sports

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