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Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010
Hatsu 2010 — time to rise and shine for Koto, Kise and Go
By MARK BUCKTON
Special to The Japan Times Online
With holiday decorations now back in the box and vacations ending for most people, the 700 men active in sumo are once again warming up the muscles, stretching the limbs and preparing for combat.
That combat — officially titled the Hatsu Basho (the first of the year) — will take place between Jan. 10 and 24. The question on so many lips this year, again, will be whether — and when — the next generation of promising Japanese will successfully challenge for the coveted Emperor's Cup awarded to the makunouchi division winner on the final day of the six annual basho.
Indications are there that some of the locally born senior flight rikishi are improving and are closing in on back to back, consistently impressive basho. 2010 could, and should be, the year names such as Goeido, Kotoshogiku at komusubi and Kisenosato at maegashira 3 prove their worth. All can now be considered top-division vets having been around and mixing it with the top guns for 13 years between them.
Focus has been an issue with Sadogatake rikishi Kotoshogiku at times, appearing more the joker than the out and out dedicated rikishi he needs to be to make the sanyaku ranks his own. On his day though he is outstanding, and just needs to ensure he has more 'on' than "off" days over the next year.
Kisenosato too loses focus periodically, especially with his back against the wall, but with a 48-42 win-loss record in 2009, and better win than loss ratios over the past few years could have finally found his groove.
Goeido has, arguably, always been the most committed of the trio if demeanor and spirit during a bout is anything to go by, and for many the Sakaigawa Beya man is the quintessential sumotori; head down, forward moving and respectful in victory or defeat. Ranked at maegashira 2 this time out, having three times flirted with the lower sanyaku ranks, he will be hoping for a repeat of last year's Hatsu Basho 10-5 from almost the same position on the banzuke; a result that secured him his first performance special prize.
Above these three, and as has been covered before here in Sumo Scribblings, the senior ranks have been clogged for some years now by under achieving ozeki content to put in records unworthy of the rank basho in, basho out.
At Hatsu, one of their number, Chiyotaikai, will be fighting as a sekiwake for the first time in a decade having been demoted for failing to secure a winning record in back-to-back tournaments at the end of 2009. It has been said he will retire if he fails to achieve a kachikoshi winning score in the Hatsu Basho and thus faces the embarrassment of a further plunge down to komusubi or perhaps maegashira.
A number of other ozeki have dropped from the rank and survived for a number of years in the maegashira ranks with Miyabiyama and Dejima perhaps the best examples of late. Tochiazuma (currently Tamanoi Oyakata) was dropped to sekiwake when he failed to appear as an ozeki due to injury several years ago, but immediately returned to the second rank thanks to a loophole — score 10 in your first sekiwake basho after demotion and automatic promotion (back to ozeki) shall be yours — offered such rikishi, as if the kadoban rules covered in the Dec. 23rd Scribblings was not enough. However, "Taika," as his fans call him, has been an ozeki for too long, and is now just too old to follow the examples of Miyabiyama et al., so while he may hang around a while longer at sekiwake if he doesn't chalk up 10 — but does get an 8-7 or 9-6 — expect nothing less than retirement should he post a losing record.
Of course, with all the focus that will then be on Taikai on Day 1 — and every day until his immediate future becomes clear one way or the other — the media will to some extent turn down the spotlight on the yokozuna duo of Hakuho and Asashoryu.
No one realistically expects anyone else, bar the two grand champions, to really be in the title race until Day 15. Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji and his Bulgarian counterpart Kotooshu have been training hard according to reports and will hopefully push the top dogs all the way to the finish line, and as the only two non-yokozuna sekitori to have lifted an Emperor's Cup in recent memory, they know what it takes.
Fingers crossed they, as well as the Japanese trio of Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, and Goeido, will dig deep and come through en-masse to challenge the dominance of the Mongolian yokozuna to give us a start to 2010 to remember!