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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Moment of truth arrives for ozeki Kotooshu ahead of Nagoya basho


By GUS FIELDING
Kyodo News

NAGOYA (Kyodo) After Bulgarian grappler Kotooshu was promoted to ozeki at the end of 2005, he spoke of his relief at discarding the image of a sweet-toothed boy whose hobby was baking caramel-stuffed cakes.

News photo
High hopes: Ozeki Kotooshu has his sights set on promotion heading into the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya. KYODO PHOTO

Fed up with comparisons to soccer prince David Beckham, the 25-year-old goliath insisted there was "no more cake baking" and preferred to talk business, chiefly, obtaining sumo's ultimate prize of promotion to yokozuna.

Strange that now the moment of truth has arrived, promotion is the only thing he doesn't want to talk about.

Kotooshu replaced Bulgarian yogurt as the country's most well-known export to Japan with victory at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament and is eyeing more history at the Nagoya meet.

"It's not on my mind in the slightest and I don't want it to be," Kotooshu said after a recent sparring session when asked about whether he was capable of making the step up to yokozuna.

"Whatever people are saying it doesn't really matter. All I am focused on is wrestling my own brand of sumo. My body has been moving well in practice and I feel that all the things I have worked hard on until now are coming together."

Having cracked under pressure twice with the Emperor's Cup in his sights in 2005, Kotooshu earned the unwanted reputation of being a "choker."

But he finally shed that label and became the first European wrestler to win the Emperor's Cup in May with a 14-1 record.

Kotooshu has said back-to-back wins from opening day were vital to his success.

"I won back-to-back from shonichi (first day)," Kotooshu was recently quoted as saying by local media. "That was big. If I had lost those bouts, my sumo would have been shaky. If I keep winning, then my confidence grows. If I had lost early, my confidence would have been shot."

Kotooshu is likely to need to win the championship without losing a single bout this time around to have a realistic chance of joining bickering Mongolians Asashoryu and Hakuho at yokozuna.

To do that he must not only beat the grand champions and his fellow ozeki, but also negotiate a potential stumbling block in the shape of nemesis Aminishiki in his opening bout.

Kotooshu almost saw his title challenge derailed by Aminishiki last time out and is 0-5 (one loss by default) in the last five bouts against the top-ranked maegashira.



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