Rising to meet the challenge of the wrestling game

TOP this one. Japan's sumo wrestling association has outlawed silicone scalp implants for short would-be wrestlers trying to increase their height in an effort to break into the sport. The ruling followed the disclosure last month that a 16-year-old wrestler had increased his height by 15cm (5.9in) to meet the entry requirement of a minimum height of 173cm (5ft 8in).

Photographs in tabloid newspapers showed Goji Harada looking like a hydrocephalic Elvis Presley after he had passed the entry exam. He was unable to move his mouth properly because the skin on his face had been stretched so tightly to accommodate the lump on top of his head.

Harada had failed the test five times. But determined to gain entry into the world of wrestling giants, he had gone to a cosmetic surgery clinic to have four silicone injections to increase his height. Each visit cost him about pounds 4,000.

Sumo wrestlers are expected to go to extraordinary lengths to increase their bulk: apart from eating huge quantities of chanko-nabe - chicken and vegetable stew - every night, they polish off beer by the crate and whisky by the bottle. All this goes to widening their waistbands, and lowering their centre of gravity to make them harder to throw out of the ring. It also means most sumo wrestlers must book double seats when travelling on planes or trains.

Harada's upward bodily expansion programme, however, was a strictly temporary affair to pass the test: it will have to be removed before he can get involved in any head- clashing bouts - assuming the sumo association does not decide to revoke his exam result and ban him from the sport. He was not the first wrestler to try it: Mainoumi, who is now in the top division of wrestlers, used silicone to squeeze past his height test when he entered the sport some years ago.

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