Czech teenager taking on the Japanese in sumo wrestling

This Saturday the Czech sumo wrestling championships take place at Prague's Congress Centre, complete with an appearance by American Emanuel Yarbrough, the exceedingly large world sumo champion. Sumo wrestling is a relatively new sport here in the Czech Republic, but it is - so to speak - getting bigger. Last year a young man called Pavel Bojar became the first Czech to become a professional sumo wrestler in Japan. Ian Willoughby has the story.

In August 2001, Pavel Bojar, a 19-year-old from Prague, made a little bit of history when he became the first ever Czech to become a "rikishi". "Rikishi" literally means "strong man" in Japanese but it is also used to mean a professional sumo wrestler. Pavel realised his dream of becoming a sumo pro when he joined the Naruto-beya (pronounced heya) stable in the town of Chiba, near Tokyo. And while his passport still bears the name Pavel Bojar, the young Czech has been given a new name at the sumo school - Takanoyama, which means high or noble mountain.

When Pavel arrived in Japan he weighed 78 kilos. Now, seven months later, he weighs 95 kilogrammes. But of course, that is not enough if Pavel really wants to make the grade - he says his ideal weight would be around 120 kilos. Two weeks ago Pavel took part in his second professional sumo contest, winning five times out of seven. That was no mean achievement, considering some of his opponents in the ring or dohyo weigh two hundred kilos. Such wins are crucial as he makes his way up through the divisions in Japan - he is now in the second division from the bottom, jonidan.

The young Czech has become something of a hit in the land of the rising sun; he is popular with sumo fans and reportedly receives a lot of attention from the Japanese media. Pavel Bojar is learning Japanese, and says he already has enough to get by at the sumo stable.

The teenager from Prague must be finding life in the Japanese sumo stable very different from what he was used to in the Czech Republic. He does not have a room of his own and sleeps on a hard mat in the main room at the school. He rises at four every morning.

And if Pavel Bojar does as well at his next tournament in May as he did two weeks ago, he will go up one division more, to what is known as sandanme.