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Monday, March 26, 2007

Hakuho stuns Asa to win tourney

OSAKA (Kyodo) Mongolian ozeki Hakuho exacted swift revenge with a championship playoff win over grand champion Asashoryu to capture his second Emperor's Cup on the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.

News photo
Mongolian Ozeki Hakuho, left, pulls down compatriot Asashoryu in the championship playoff on the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on Sunday to win a second Emperor's Cup ahead of the yokozuna. Inset photo: Hakuho celebrates with the Cup. KYODO PHOTOS
News photo

Hakuho took everyone at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium by surprise when he got hold of his countryman and yanked him down to score a blink-and-you'll-miss-it victory and snap the yokozuna's four-tournament winning streak.

"I just wanted to go aggressive and decided on the tactics on the spur of the moment," said Hakuho. "I can't believe it. I am really happy."

Hakuho spurned his chance to take the title with a defeat to Asashoryu on Saturday and victory was made all the more sweeter because the ozeki had also lost to Asashoryu in a championship decider at last year's spring basho.

"I stiffened up the last time (in the 2006 playoff) but I was able to put that disappointment behind me today and I'm delighted," said Hakuho.

Hakuho's only previous title came at the 2006 summer meet that Asashoryu withdrew from early on because of an elbow injury. Hakuho won that tournament by beating Miyabiyama in a playoff.

Hakuho (13-2) saw off Bulgarian bruiser Kotooshu but overnight coleader Asashoryu forced a playoff when he craftily jumped aside at the charge and pulled down ozeki Chiyotaikai (7-8) in the final bout of regulation.

Asashoryu had come into the tournament aiming to shrug of accusations of match-fixing by the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai earlier this year but back-to-back defeats from the opening day appeared to have shaken his confidence.

The yokozuna showed steely resilience and came roaring back to win his next 13 matches only to lose out when Hakuho's pull in the playoff forced him to put his hand on the sandy surface.

In the day's other key match up, ozeki Kaio had to dig in deep but managed to secure a majority of wins by yanking down Mongolian komusubi Ama as both men finished 8-7.

In earlier bouts, Tochiozan completed a sparkling makuuchi division debut by forcing out crowd-pleaser Takamisakari (7-8) for an 11th win.

Tochiozan's exploits earned him his first Fighting Spirit prize and the 14th-ranked maegashira admitted he had exceeded his own expectations.

"I never thought I would win so many bouts," said Tochiozan. "But I lost some bouts, too. That has given me something to ponder and I will try and become more offensive in the next tournament."

Former sekiwake Wakanosato posted an 11th win after slapping down Georgian grappler Kokkai (10-5).

Popular fifth-ranked maegashira Homasho (11-4) celebrated winning his second Technique Prize by barging out Tokitenku, who closed with a 7-8 losing record.

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