Julia Hansson attended the 2016 U.S. Sumo Open on a date. When it was time for the women’s openweight competition, Hansson figured it was open to any and all competitors, so she began approaching the mat wanting to wrestle, only to be reined back.
After vowing to return to the tournament as a competitor, Hansson was back at Walter Pyramid on the campus of California State University, Long Beach, for the 17th annual U.S. Sumo Open on June 17. The Swede went from spectator to champion, going undefeated on her way to the women’s lightweight title.
“I’m quite elated and happy; it was a great experience,” Hansson said. “I was nervous about coming here because I had a preexisting injury, but I felt very determined. I wanted to see this through. After the first round when I realized I wasn’t tensing up and freaking out like I thought I would, I just really had fun with it.”
Founded in 2001 by Andrew Freund, the U.S. Sumo Open is the largest and longest-running sumo competition in the world outside of Japan. The event features more than 50 sumo wrestlers hailing from around the globe, including the United States, Japan, Norway, Mongolia and Egypt.
Ramy Elgazar (6-foot-3, 459 pounds) won a bronze medal in the men’s heavyweight division. The Egyptian has been participating in the U.S. Sumo Open since 2015.
“I like the competition here so much because there are so many people watching you live, not on the internet,” he said. “It’s my best moment in my life when I’m here and show what skills I have in sumo.”
Mongolian Byambajav Ulambayar (6-1, 353) won heavyweight gold for the 10th time in 11 years. Japan’s Takeshi Amitani (5-7, 245) won middleweight bronze and gold in openweight, becoming the first non-heavyweight to win the openweight title since 2002.
American Trent Sabo (5-8, 187) won the men’s lightweight division.
“This is such a fun tournament; partly it’s the venue and partly it’s the spectators and athletes,” Sabo said. “I don’t know who specifically (sumo) would appeal to, but I know there was a lot of different types of people here and they all loved it — older people, young people, black, white, Democrat, Republican, everyone’s just having a great time. I think it’s an awesome sport anyone would enjoy.”