Send in the Girls

Let's get one thing straight: the name of the sport is shinsumo, or "new sumo," not women's sumo. "What comes to mind when you hear 'female sumo'?" asks Takao Kitada, chairman of the Shinsumo Federation. "Fat naked women in mawashi (sumo's distinctive loincloth). We didn't want people to associate the sport with that negative image." So shinsumo's growing legion of warriors—there are 800 in Japan now, compared with just 80 when the amateur federation started in 1996—wear leotards. Most are Japanese, but top competitors include Norwegians, Germans, Brazilians and Estonians. Women have graced the sumo ring periodically through history, though often...

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