It's 7 a.m. in Prague and I'm walking around the perimeter of Strahov Stadium, a crumbling sports arena left over from the Communist regime. During the spring 1968 invasion, citizens removed all street signs and numbers to confuse Soviet troops. Apparently the tactic is still successful because I have no idea where I am. Somewhere nearby is a training center for Prague's chapter of the Czech Sumo Union. I'm here for the morning sumo practice. ¶ Mention the Czech Republic and things come to mind like hockey, pilsner beer, American expatriates, or maybe a Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl. But sumo? Isn't that for huge Japanese guys? One of the E.U.'s biggest secrets, it turns out, is that outside of Japan, the Czech Republic is sumo's most popular country. There are only 50 wrestlers in the United States, but the Czechs claim over 500, more than any of the other 25 sumo-friendly European nations.
Today I'm to meet Jaroslav Poriz, president and founder of the Czech Sumo Union. He's the country's most famous wrestler, ranked fifth in the world and fifth in Europe. He also organizes the tournaments, recruits new wrestlers, sets up sumo clubs statewide, and coaches a daily practice session. Poriz is the man. That is, if I can find him.
Two men in street clothes stand in front of a grubby steel door, talking in Czech. One is huge, easily six feet, five inches, the other almost comically small in comparison, around five feet, four inches. I inquire about the sumo club, and they reply in broken English that yes, this is the right location. Out of Czech's booming sumo explosion, exactly two have shown up for practice.