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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Dejima bows out as Hakuho picks up another Emperor's Cup


Special to The Japan Times Online

In July 1999, longtime Musashigawa Beya sekitori Dejima Takeharu won his first and only career Emperor's Cup after defeating former yokozuna Akebono in a play-off victory.

Exactly a decade later, in July, 2009, the Ishikawa native called it quits on 13 years in the professional sport that saw him peak at the rank of ozeki in late '99. He stayed there for a couple of years before slipping back into the maegashira ranks for much of the last eight years. At times he would flirt with the lower echelons of sanyaku, but with leg issues that bothered him through much of his time in the ring, a 14th year of top-flight action has, for several months, been looking increasingly unlikely. His retirement then proved little more than an announcement of the inevitable.

On the dohyo, another inevitability, in the eyes of many, was the victory claimed by yokozuna Hakuho with a 14-1 record. Securing his 11th title to date, his only defeat came at the hands of ozeki Kotomitsuki on Day 11 as the local boy in the sport's second rank put together one of the most impressive bouts we have seen from him in the past few years.

Kotomitsuki was himself in the race for the yusho until he was slapped down by Aminishiki near the final weekend. Given the fact that Kotomitsuki has reverted to his somewhat dishonorable self more than a few times in the past few years, the word "comeuppance" came to the minds of many sumo watchers.

As was, Kotooshu, his stablemate and another ozeki, came closest to knocking Hakuho off the rails by finishing 13-2 — an impressive score that included a victory over yokozuna Asashoryu, and wannabe Grand Champion Harumafuji on the last day of action. This put the pressure on the sport's Numero Uno as he prepared for his final day showdown with former king of the ring Asashoryu. When push came to literal shove, however, it was Hakuho who once again came out on top using a shitatenage throw to dispatch the older Mongolian and take the lead in as far as their meetings as yokozuna go — 5-4. Career-wise, they remain 11-14 overall, but the only thing that will stop this from being reversed in the next 12 months is the ongoing question on just how long Asashoryu will stay in the sport with his arm and elbow injuries starting to affect his performances almost daily.

Respectable scores in lower sanyaku were realized by Kisenosato (9-6 at sekiwake) and Kotoshogiku (8-7 at komusubi), and they will be joined in September by Estonian Baruto, who went 11-4 at maegashira 3.

Aran, meanwhile, the maegashira 1 in Nagoya, as predicted here in Sumo Scribblings finished with a statistically depressing 4-11 record although he will bounce back in the future once he realizes it is not all about brute force at this level. By adding a few more go-to techniques to his resume, he will become a formidable foe in the coming years.

One guy who did not read the script penned here though was Kitazakura. The aging Kitanoumi Beya man, a former sekitori regular just up from a drop down into the third ranked, unsalaried, makushita division was attempting a comeback in juryo and was expected to retire should he once more post a losing record. Sadly, after a losing record he did — eventually finishing with a disastrous 3-12 — but thus far no announcements surrounding his future have been heard. Should he opt to keep going, he is unlikely to make it back to juryo before the new year as his 3-12 in Nagoya will drop him far enough down the upper-makusshita rankings to require a couple of back-to-back winning records in a division that only fight seven times each basho.

One late bloomer who is now making waves in the top division having moved through juryo in only two basho, and along the way picking up consecutive divisional championships, is Shotenro — ranked at maegashira 10 this time out. A Mongolian in Musashigawa Beya, he may be seen by some as a successor to the departing Dejima, and by posting a solid 11-4 in just his third basho in the senior division he will guarantee himself a very healthy promotion indeed. But, already at 27 years of age, the winner of this basho's Fighting Spirit Prize will likely prove more of a case study in just what it takes for an older rikishi to make an impact at this level in the modern game than anything else.

The next Sumo Scribblings column will explain how to go about visiting morning practice at a sumo stable, the best days and time to do so, and the etiquette expected once inside.



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