Finally: Another installment in the US Team Member Spotlight. Between his busy career as a truck driver and Sumo wrestler I was able to get some of Trent Sabo’s time! This is exciting since pound for pound Trent is not only one of the top wrestlers in the US but in the world as he is a two time world medalist.
1) You are a multi-time National Champion and the only active Member of the US team to Medal at the World Sumo Championships, and by all accounts you still have several years of your career left. What do you feel is left for you to accomplish in Sumo as a competitor?
I have achieved all the original goals I set for my self when I first started doing sumo. That being said there are lots of tough competitions world wide. I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to real specific goals, now I am mostly just enjoying competing in the sport. A couple of pseudo goals I kind of have in the back of my mind would be A) winning the open class at the nationals. B) getting another world medal C) maintaining a world wide reputation as a solid competitor and good friend. Other than that my goals are in developing the sport and to have fun.
2) What capacity would you like to be involved after your competing days are over?
I would like to be very active in the sport when Im through competing. I have coached people nearly since I started in the sport and would like to continue to do so. I have also been involved in some form or other with administration for quiet a while. I would like to try and implement some things that I think are missing that would benefit the athletes and federation in general. Some of these would be a clinic once or twice a year, finding more funding, strengthening the officiating, and developing younger athletes. Overall I just want to help people find this sport and make them feel welcome. Anything I can do to achieve that, you will find me doing.
3) You have heard what came first the Chicken or the Egg, and since Idaho is a hotbed for Sumo boasting several US team members, what came first the Trent Sabo or The Kelly Gneiting?
This is a fun question. From a chronological standpoint I started sumo a year before Kelly, but Kelly came into this world before me. I also developed some notoriety in sumo before Kelly, but Kelly has since surpassed me, becoming the current “Face” of American sumo. Kelly was the first between us to make the semi-finals at the world championships and fight for a medal. I was the first to get a world medal. Kelly has been on the world team more times than myself, I have been to more international competitions. We each have an impressive resume’ but for different reasons. I never really think about who came first, I am just happy to have someone like Kelly to share the journey with. We are different, you wouldn’t say we are “two peas in a pod” more like salt and pepper. We are a package and the meal will be better with both of us than with only one.
4) Tell me about your training in Japan?
Its hard to describe the overall experience since a large portion is intangible. But it was a very positive experience for me. I didnt learn as much in the skill and technique department as I had expected but I picked up much more of the historical and cultural aspects than I anticipated. I got a better understanding of the full sport.
I also learned some things about myself. It was a very rough time for me. I took a lot of physical punishment during training. We trained on hard packed clay that was abrasive and unyielding, but what really wore on me was the stuff that took place outside of training. Not having anyone to speak too because of the language barrier. None of the comfort foods I was used to. Always being the odd man out out socially. It was really quiet the exercise in mental toughness.
5) From what I understand you sacrificed a lot when you were training for worlds the year you placed third, what was that time like for you? What were some of the major sacrifices you made?
Actually, you are referencing my win at the 2004 world cup in Holland. In 2008 when I won the bronze at worlds I didn’t really get much training at all. The major difference was my state of mind. The year before I realized something I hadn’t noticed before, That was that the American team, didnt seem to be confident about being at the world championships. They seemed to feel that most of the world was better than them because they had training partners, coaches and financial support. So when we would wrestle we seemed to be holding back, wrestling defensively. Just trying to last as long as we could, we didn’t want to get embarrassed. That year I went out with the mentality that I was going to win, that I was going to take the fight to my opponents. It worked I made the semi-finals easily, but once I was there I got nervous again. I didn’t want to make any mistakes and I started playing it safe again. I ended up losing. In 2008 since I hadn’t been able to train much, I just decided I was going to go out and really fight hard just leave it all out on the dohyo. I didn’t expect to win but I wanted to leave an impression. Once again I easily made the semi-finals. But this time when I fought for the medals instead of feeling nervous I felt determination. I really believe I should have had a medal in 07 and I was the one that made the mistake. In 08 I was not going to lose again. Sure enough I got it
6) You have had the chance to wrestle a few former pros, Akebono, and Byamba. Do you feel that top level amateur wrestlers can be on a close level with the top level pros? How do you think Byamba would fare against the top Pro Mongolians like Harumafuji and Hakuho?
Well like any sport pros have the advantage because they get more training. But I feel there are lots of amateurs that could be right in the mix if they were given the same training. By most peoples accounts Byamba was pretty good, had he stayed in pro sumo he probably would have been in the top division.
Byamba was pretty dominant when he first came to the USA but he did lose a few matches to amateurs. Also the amateurs keep getting better with their training so I think the gap is closing. There are many factors to consider such as the fact that many amateurs dont have a specific sumo style of fighting. Sometimes this is an advantage sometimes its not. Right now the best Japanese university students struggle at the world championships, so the best amateurs are at least as good as some lower level pros.
7) If you had the ability to turn back time, would you have made an effort to be a pro in your younger days?
Its hard to say. I’m pretty small for a sumo. I would have to do something just to make the minimum height requirement for pro sumo. I also have short arms. and I carry my weight in my upper body so packing on the pounds would have made me top heavy. That’s not to say I couldn’t find success in sumo, but I’m not really the best physical specimen for the pros. Also wrestling with guys Byamba’s size everyday would be very tough on my body. I might have given pro sumo a try but I don’t think I would have found much success
8) Let’s talk about your beard. I have seen large fluffy small and trimmed and my favorite handle bar mustache, would you consider entering a beard competition at some point?
Anything is possible. But guys that do those competitions, they don’t mess around. But if it was just amongst federation members, then I like my chances.
9) There are new clubs popping up now, and it is important to give a nod to the Pioneers of American Sumo. Do you see yourself in that category?
I see everyone in that category. People coming up now have it better but not by a whole lot. Sumo is far from mainstream. We still lack talented and dedicated coaches, regular athletes to train with, funding ect… But its getting better all the time. Still right now everyone has to be self motivated and everyone’s efforts to grow the sport count tremendously The work is hard and thankless and in many case we are all learning so much through the experiences, stuff that would be common knowledge if this sport were mainstream. If that doesn’t sound like a pioneer to you I don’t know what does.
10) What is one thing you would want to tell anyone considering starting sumo?
Its more fun than you imagine. As one of my friends quipped “I love sumo. Its the only sport I know where the athletes will tolerate a competition just so they can have a party.”
- Subarus and their Sumo Wrestlers (advertisingvanier.wordpress.com)
- 2013 US Woman’s Sumo Open Light weight Champion Marissa Tybor (welcomematsumoclub.wordpress.com)
- Big win for sumo wrestler (stuff.co.nz)