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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
HARU HAPPENINGS -- Something for everyone
By MARK BUCKTON
Special to The Japan Times
In perhaps the most entertaining sumo tournament in years, the recently completed Haru Basho essentially had it all.
From day one we had ozeki Tochiazuma chasing a second consecutive yusho and with it automatic yokozuna promotion. Taking a tumble when maegashira Aminishiki manhandled him on day two, the doubters were out and about and the various 'what-if' scenarios were being played out in the media, on the Internet and in the minds of many a sumo fan in Japan and abroad to decide just how many defeats he could be promoted with. Coming a cropper again on day seven against komusubi Miyabiyama and one last time on day 11 when fellow ozeki Kaio bundled him out, the yusho race was all but over for the yokozuna wannabe when he turned into the home straight and sensed bouts against Hakuho, Kotooshu, Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu lined up one after the other.
Needing a straight four wins out of four to 'carry over' the possibility of yokozuna promotion to May's Natsu Basho, Tochiazuma put his head down and won the lot, playing no small part in the yusho outcome in the process.
Meanwhile, it was the man ranked at sekiwake, Hakuho, who was making the majority of the headlines.
Going into the last day with a fantastic 13-1 record and ozeki promotion for May all but sewn up, his father looking on dressed in Mongolian attire and just one more bout against the ailing ozeki Kaio separating the 21-year-old from, at the very least a yusho play-off against the yokozuna, he lost! That it was a result even the most seasoned of sumo fan would consider something of an upset however, was another indication of the sumo young starting to displace the sumo old -- confirmed perhaps by the fact that Hakuho was celebrating his third birthday at the time Kaio entered sumo!
So, although Kaio stuttered, spluttered and almost stalled on several occasions before facing Hakuho with a 7-7 record on day 15, when experience won through and Kaio secured his much needed kachi-koshi winning record, he silenced for a while the retirement rumors. When yokozuna Asashoryu was then shown the dohyo door by Tochiazuma in the tournament's last scheduled bout, Hakuho was handed a lifeline but lost for the second time in a day to hand the yokozuna his 16th Emperor's Cup; undoubtedly the toughest thus far.
Less impressive in the senior Makunouchi Division were Hokutoriki and Tokitsuumi. Although both were in the title hunt in the January tournament, 1-14 and 2-13 was the best they could do this time with Tokitsuumi only getting that second victory as he defeated Hokutoriki on the last day.
In the Juryo Division, Estonian Baruto went unbeaten to secure a fantastic 15-0 zensho-yusho. In doing so he became the first individual to achieve the feat since 1963 when the man later to be the 52nd yokozuna, Kitanofuji, ended a Juryo tournament without black marks against his name.
Not quite as formidable but impressive all the same, Homasho of Shikoroyama Beya finished 12-3 to secure his own promotion to Makunouchi. Whether or not Baruto will leap from Juryo 11 to join him will become clear soon enough but is an issue complicated by several upper Juryo men securing good winning records that would normally see promotion a given.
Lower still we saw no division play offs a necessity in Osaka which is rare indeed and had many stumped as to when that last happened. The Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Sandanme and Makushita winners were all decided prior to senshuraku and it was nice to see the relatively new and rather small Chiganoura Beya take the Jonokuchi and Jonidan division titles.
That said, it's back up to the top division to end with as the trio of special prizes saw the Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit prize) go to Mongolian Kyokushuzan who went 11-4 down at maegashira 13 and will guarantee himself a healthy boost up the rankings; the Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance Award) to Hakuho, his third such award, and Hakuho and yet another Mongolian, Ama, were both deemed worthy of sharing the Gino-sho (Technique Prize); Ama no doubt as a result of his having defeated both Kotooshu and Kaio on his way to an 8-7 final record.