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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kotooshu ready for showdown with return to form at summer sumo

Kyodo News

For the record, Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu has discarded the image of the boy with a sweet tooth. Though likened to the affable David Beckham of soccer, he is all about the business of trying to reach sumo's pinnacle rank.

Kotooshu, who reinvigorated sumo with his outstanding achievements in the ring in 2005 before being promoted to sumo's second-highest rank four months ago, said obtaining the ultimate prize is definitely within his grasp.

"I'd like to recover from injury (to my right knee) as soon as possible and hopefully make yokozuna through a lot of training," Kotooshu said at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old Bulgarian goliath, who stands 204 centimeters tall, acknowledged his past hobby of baking cakes chock-full of caramel as a boy and his image as a gentle giant, but said those perceptions have never influenced his sumo wrestling.

"I used to do that as a boy. But now that I'm an adult and wrestling in sumo, there is no more cake baking. I just train like everyone else and want to succeed in the ring," Kotooshu said.

His greatest obstacle aside from returning to form from his recent injury, has been Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu, who won the spring tournament to claim his career 16th title in March. Kotooshu squeaked by with a 9-6 record.

"The greatest difficulty of facing Asashoryu is that he is so speedy. You have to be able to move quickly like him to beat him. I will do my best to do this in the next tournament."

Kotooshu, who was a junior European champion as a Greco-Roman wrestler as a teenager, said the main difference in having to adjust to sumo is the speed involved in a "tachiai" clash.

"It happens so fast and the bout can be over in the blink of an eye," said Kotooshu, who relies on his trademark belt-throws, swift footwork and a right-hand grip on his opponent's "mawashi" belt to win most of his bouts.

Stablemaster Sadogatake (formerly Kotonowaka), who recently stepped down from the raised-ring and will hold a top-knot cutting retirement ceremony next month, believes it is only a matter of time before his wrestler achieves his ultimate goal. His next shot to prove himself will be the May 7-21 meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

"I think that Kotooshu can reach yokozuna very soon as long as he stays healthy. Sumo's loosely set rules say that a wrestler can make yokozuna if he can win two consecutive tournaments or win one and have a strong showing in the next. This is what we're aiming for," said Sadogatake.

Sadogatake also said that sticking to the ancient tradition in sumo without modernizing the sport to any great extent, including the limits of one foreign wrestler per stable was important, adding that the return of a Japanese yokozuna could also improve the waning popularity in the sport.

"I think the number of foreign wrestlers now is perfect as it is. Sumo values tradition. Japanese wrestlers have gotten weaker, so we would like to see a Japanese wrestler rise through the ranks again."

Asashoryu won a record seven straight tournaments in a row before his streak was ended at the New Year meet in January as ozeki Tochiazuma claimed the title, but the Mongolian brawler rebounded to win the spring title in a playoff with countryman Hakuho, who was promoted to ozeki last month.

Takanohana, who retired from sumo in January 2003, was the last Japanese grand champion to grace the dohyo.

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