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Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007
The king is all but dead — long live sumo!
By MARK BUCKTON
Special to The Japan Times Online
Following his flight home, the Mongolian police and military were deployed to prevent Japanese media access to "their" man, Asashoryu, and not since the time Konishiki was looking at promotion to yokozuna has the line separating Japanese and non-Japanese suitability to hold the rank been drawn so prominently in the sand.
Had the sport's 68th yokozuna apologized for his actions in the days immediately following his now famous misdemeanor, he wouldn't be the target of so much media and public derision now. Regardless of whether he feels he was behaving badly, the simple fact is, this is Japan, where apologies are expected, and sincerity should be apparent. Tears always help, as do long bows before phalanx of photographers.
To date he hasn't apologized and seems unwilling to do so. As a result, Asashoryu Akinori, the one-time king of modern sumo, is finished. His reputation is in tatters and will remain so regardless of possible future successes and record-breaking achievements.
Sadly, the first Mongolian yokozuna has not only embarrassed himself in recent weeks but leaves in his wake a degree of "guilt by association" that will forever blight non-Japanese close to yokozuna promotion. Future foreign rikishi will again put up the numbers necessary to be called a yokozuna, but the doubt hovering over their ability to behave as is expected in the 24/7 post will be ever present.
Fortunately, for now, the world of sumo can move on and with the Sept. 9 — 23rd Autumn tournament just around the corner that is exactly what the majority are doing.
The 50+ stables are all now training hard for the last Tokyo tournament of 2007 and none more so than Sadogatake Beya in Chiba Prefecture.
Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu and newly promoted ozeki Kotomitsuki are both Sadogatake men, and it will be to this pair many will look to give the basho some added spice.
Kotooshu has never won a makunouchi division title, while Kotomitsuki's lone success came back in September 2001, when the world's attention was focused on New York, Washington D.C. and Somerset County, Penn.; a time most of the sanyaku men present failed to complete the basho or performed well below par.
If either man wins the upcoming tournament it would no doubt do wonders for their self-confidence and have their recently deceased mentor, former yokozuna Kotozakura and Sadogatake oyakata, smiling down from above.
Kotomitsuki will be without the support of his home (Nagoya) crowd this time out so he'll have to reach a little deeper to approach the final weekend in double figures. He will not have to face fellow ozeki Kotooshu or former sekiwake (current maegashira 3) stablemate Kotoshogiku* and, given the absence of a certain yokozuna against whom he has a dismal win/loss ratio, it could be argued he is on easy street.
Kotooshu's own worst enemy is himself. While he is capable of some outstanding throws and has an impressive arsenal of techniques that will come together to win him a yusho in the not-too-distant future, he too often displays watered-down schoolyard sumo. A sense of lethargy and boredom seem to be lurking just below the surface, and any decent doctor would likely recommend a dose of "up and at 'em" (as opposed to soccer on the steppe.)
As is, just one man stands in the way of the two "Kotos" his basho: Hakuho Sho, the 69th man in history to hold sumo's top rank.
Hakuho is still finding his feet with all the additional duties and expectations required of him as a yokozuna but he is head and shoulders above his peers in terms of raw ability and talent. He is still in the refinement process and his defensive technique needs work but today he stands alone as sumo's top dog, a title he secured in more ways than one the minute Asashoryu's flight to Mongolia left the tarmac at Narita.
Will he win the basho at a canter? I for one don't think he will as he still has his flaws, not least an over-reliance on his left hand getting hold of an opponent's mawashi to secure a win. Although I do believe he will eventually walk away with the yusho, he may this time be pushed all the way by the ozeki duo from Sadogatake.
Other rikishi in with a shot at lifting the Emperor's Cup could, and should, include komusubi Kisenosato, perhaps maegashira 1, Tokitenku as the proverbial dark horse, and even former sekiwake Kyokutenho battling down at maegashira 12 where he will stay off the championship radar screens until the very end — if he's still in it.
Whatever happens, it really is all out there to play for. Asashoryu's suspension now means we have an exciting basho on the horizon. One (missing) rikishi does not a basho make or break. Forget Asashoryu for the next few weeks and enjoy the action.
*Rikishi from the same stable do not compete against each other unless as part of an end of tournament play-off.