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Akebono’s Marriage May Hurt Career

May 1, 1998 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ The marriage of Hawaiian-born sumo star Akebono to his half-American girlfriend may make it harder for him to get ahead in the conservative, tradition-bound world of sumo, his stable-master said Friday.

``Everything is Japanese. It would be difficult,″ stable-master Azumazeki.

The 6-foot-8, 516-pound Akebono, 28, formerly known as Chad Rowan, announced his engagement with Christina Reiko Kalina, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, in February.

Her father is a U.S. serviceman, and her mother is Japanese. The couple are expecting a baby in early June. Akebono registered their marriage at a local office on Monday. A formal wedding is planned for the fall, but the date has not yet been set, Azumazeki said.

Azumazeki, or Jesse Kuhaulua, a former wrestler himself, said his Japanese wife was a great asset in his 14 years of running his own stable, the office-cum-training facility where the younger wrestlers live.

``I’m lucky,″ he said in a telephone interview.

The wife of the stable master must feed and take care of the wrestlers, as well as run business matters. And being fluent in Japanese is a necessity, Azumazeki said.

Akebono became a Japanese citizen two years ago. He was the first foreign-born wrestler to be promoted to ``yokozuna″ _ the highest rank in the rigidly hierarchical, ancient Japanese sport _ making him the star wrestler in Azumazeki’s stable.

Usually, the star wrestler inherits the master’s stable, making his marriage a delicate and strategic affair. Often, the star wrestler marries the master’s daughter. Retiring wrestlers who don’t inherit stables can continue as coach.

When he announced his engagement, Akebono, who speaks good Japanese, said he appreciated being able to talk in English with his wife-to-be.

``I can express my feelings with her,″ he said at that time.

The powerful sumo elders consider the sport an art. Wearing loincloths and topknots, the wrestlers bash into each other in bouts that sometimes last mere seconds.

Being fat is part of the art, although fans love to see the rare skinny wrestler topple the big guy. Dancelike moves and salt-throwing, a purification ritual, are also integral to the sport.

Azumazeki said he was happy for Akebono.

``The main thing is that he is happy,″ he said. ``It’s all up to him. I think he made the right decision. When he’s retired, he’s on his own.″

Akebono, who has so far won nine tournament titles and finished 13-2 the last tournament, is in good shape for the upcoming tournament, which begins Sunday, Azumazeki said.

``It’s not only him now. He has a wife and a new baby,″ Azumazeki said. ``He has to look after three people. I think it’ll give him more confidence.″