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Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006

Stop thief -- he took my limelight!

Asa knocked from pedestal by Abe


Special to The Japan Times Online

Push came to shove, slap turned into frontal force out and both Hakuho (8-7) and Miyabiyama (9-6) flopped big time. Former sanyaku man Takanowaka took the Juryo title 11-4 after a fierce play-off with Toyozakura and Sawaii took the Makushita title 7-0; albeit securing his final win with a rather distasteful henka. The Sandanme, Jonidan and even Jonokuchi divisions witnessed some enthralling battles for fans of the lower ranks but when the dust settled and when the papers hit the stands after the tournament the name of one man was on the lips of millions -- Shinzo Abe!

A man demonstrating he learned well living in the shadows of his "ride the bandwagon and be seen with as many famous folk as possible" predecessor as Prime Minister -- Junichiro Koizumi, Abe turned up on Day 15, struggled to lift and present a trophy to yusho winner Asashoryu, turned, waved to those fans still in the stadium, reveled in the moment, swiped the yokozuna's hard earned limelight and then left.

Asashoryu meanwhile stood smiling and playing his part. Whether or not he stole a glance up over his right shoulder at a picture of former yokozuna Takanohana is unknown.

If he did, he'd be aware that in January 2007, the Hatsu Basho will see the removal of the last remaining picture of Takanohana hanging beneath the rafters of the Ryogoku Kokugikan -- to be replaced by one (more) of himself.

Not too long thereafter, if he maintains the form that has seen him claim 18 Emperor's Cups thus far, Asashoryu's name could rank higher than Takanohana on the overall list of yusho winners and when, (not "if") this happens it will be time for Japan to finally wake up, smell the mutton and appreciate the fact that the Asashoryu Era is well and truly upon us.

Locally, to the disappointment of many older Japanese fans, no long term hopes really put the numbers together at Aki and even Kisenosato (8-7) and Homasho (7-8), young Japanese lads worthy of note and set for semi-permanent slots in sanyaku at some point in the future struggled; Kisenosato having already made komusubi only achieving his kachikoshi on the last day by way of his opponent pulling out injured.

Looking at the pluses though the recently completed tournament saw fans from all over the world turn the Kokugikan into a United Nations of sorts and on senshuraku, with the tournament winner already decided, non-Japanese made up the bulk of those fans at the head of the line for the 400 same day tickets put on sale. Mongolians, Spaniards, and yours truly (British) were all standing side-by-side with a smattering of Japanese fans well before 6 a.m. By 8:20 a.m. when the blinds rolled up to indicate the ticket office was open for business more than a few phone numbers had been exchanged and when the "Sold Out" sign went up a short time later, at least the same number as were able to get tickets were turned away and told to watch on TV. For a brief time talk turned to similar ticket woes being the norm back in the days of the Taka(nohana) Waka(nohana) circus than once enveloped the sport.

On the dohyo, Kotooshu (10-5) looks like he may be on the road to recovery after an injury riddled 2006. Tochiazuma started with a string of early defeats but put his banged up knees to the back of his mind -- don't try that one at home -- and finished with a respectable 9-6. Fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai went one better with a 10-5 finish while Kaio dropped out in the first week presumably to resurface in Kyushu.

A few Japanese stars did shine, in particular Hokutoriki (10-5) and Aminishiki (11-4) but neither will retain sanyaku placement long term should it ever be conferred.

Kokkai of Georgia went 8-7 in his first basho as a komusubi and "settled at sekiwake", Kotomitsuki ended with the same score he put up last basho, and the one before that and the one before that and -- you get the picture -- yet another 8-7.

Several retirements will follow the tournament but not too many will be missed by the wider world. It is on the NHK side of sumo that the biggest loss will be felt as commentator and sumo fan Dave Wiggins finally hung up his mike and moved to greener pastures. As one of the original NHK crowd of English language commentators, Dave was instantly recognizable for his "Get out the maple syrup Grandma, it's pancake time!" catchphrase -- used each and every time a rikishi went down like the proverbial sack of spuds -- hopefully not a phrase we'll have to use for the English broadcast on NHK soon regardless of continued murmurings from within the hallowed halls.



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