If the phrase “sumo wrestler” calls to mind a hefty Asian man in a loincloth, Valeria and Diana Dall’Olio, a mother-daughter sumo wrestling team from Brazil, have a message: Think again.
The Dall’Olios are used to people saying they are too small, too fragile or “too female” to practice a sport typically associated with hulking Japanese men, but they say that is just fuel for their fighting spirit when they get in the dojo.
“There’s a lot of prejudice. When you say you practice sumo, some people think you have to be fat,” Valeria Dall’Olio, 39, told reporters as she prepared for a competition at a public gym in Sao Paulo. “Women are always under a microscope in the martial arts, because they’re sports that have generally been restricted to male fighters.”
She got into martial arts as a girl, studying judo and jiujitsu.
In 2016, she fell in love with sumo, which was brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century.
Soon she was winning bouts — all the way up to the Brazilian national title, which she won three times (2018, 2019 and 2021) in the middleweight category (65kg to 73kg).
She added the South American championship to her trophy case in 2021.
“I try to balance my different lives: homemaker, mother of two. I don’t have much free time,” Valeria Dall’Olio said.
Women are banned from professional sumo in Japan.
In its birthplace, the highly ritualized sport has been linked for more than 1,500 years to the Shinto religion, whose believers have traditionally seen women as impure or bad luck for sumo.
In the past, women were banned from attending bouts or even touching sumo wrestlers.
However, an international amateur women’s sumo championship has been held since 2001. Organizers hope to one day turn it into an Olympic sport.
Being allowed to compete “is a real victory for us,” Valeria Dall’Olio said. “We’ve got more fighting spirit than men, who usually aren’t used to battling on as many fronts as we are.”
Diana Dall’Olio, 18, said that she never had much interest in wrestling until she was attracted to sumo by its speed.
The bouts, in which wrestlers compete to fell or push one another from a circular, dirt-floor ring, rarely last more than 30 seconds.
Strength, strategy and technique are everything.
Diana Dall’Olio put on a mawashi, or sumo loincloth, for the first time in 2019.
She now competes as a lightweight (under 65kg).
“You can feel the prejudice,” she said of people’s reactions to her choice of sport. “A lot of people say: ‘Women are fragile, they get injured and quit.’”
“That’s one of the things we’re learning to fight against,” she said.
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