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Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010
Hakuho looks to continue dominance in 2010
By DAVE HUESTON
As the New Year gets under way, Hakuho remains the man to beat after a record-breaking year in 2009.
Seeking his 13th Emperor's Cup when the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament kicks off this Sunday, sumo's dominant force will once again be asking opponents, "Who's your Daddy?" in 2010.
While fellow Mongolian yokozuna rival Asashoryu continued his struggles in and out of the ring, Hakuho wrapped up a brilliant campaign last year with 86 wins against just four losses, surpassing the record set by Asashoryu in 2005.
Finishing the Kyushu Basho in November with a flawless 15-0 mark, the 24-year-old won three of the six tournaments and made the usually fiery Asashoryu look mild by comparison.
"I was a little winded at the end but I have done some solid training," Hakuho said after a recent pre-tournament workout against 30 wrestlers at the Tokitsukaze sumo stable in Tokyo's Sumida Ward.
In the final training session for the 15-day meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, Hakuho beat Asashoryu in two out of two matches and completed 29 bouts while his rival was breathing heavy after just three of 12 matches.
"What can I say? I would say I was in a groove from the last meet," said Hakuho, who has a 24-bout winning streak extending from the Autumn Basho in September.
In earlier training versus Georgian Tochinoshin, Asashoryu, who is nursing a left elbow injury, won 15 out of 17 bouts against the No. 1 maegashira. But he lashed out at reporters after his poor final training session.
"I couldn't get my balance today, I lost. So what?" he snapped.
Asashoryu floored his critics, winning the 2009 New Year meet after pulling out of three consecutive tournaments through injuries. He later won the Autumn Basho to match former yokozuna great Kitanoumi with 24 Emperor's Cups.
He was lambasted for insolence in the ring when he pumped his fist after winning his two titles, and his private life was also scrutinized after he divorced his wife of more than six years.
"These days, I am faced with the reality of retirement in every tournament I compete in. But without this sense of urgency, it's over for me. It's because of having this feeling that I have gotten this far," Asashoryu said.
While Asashoryu lost steam down the stretch, finishing with an 11-4 record in Kyushu, another Mongolian, ozeki Harumafuji, won his first title at the summer meet in May.
Sumo is still hoping for one of its native sons to pump some much-needed life back in the ancient Japanese sport, which has not seen a Japanese-born wrestler win a title since now-retired Tochiazuma did so in January 2006.