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Monday, May 23, 2011
Hakuho wins test meet despite final-day loss
By DAVE HUESTON
The once invincible yokozuna is human after all.
With the wind sucked from his sails after winning his record-tying seventh consecutive title in anticlimactic fashion, Hakuho was sent to his second defeat at the hands of veteran ozeki Kaio on the final day of the May Technical Examination Tournament on Sunday.
After his closest challenger Tochinoshin was defeated by Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji in an earlier bout to fall to a third loss that effectively decided the championship, the normally razor-sharp Hakuho paid for a sluggish jump at the faceoff at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The tension in the air could be cut with a knife, but Hakuho never rose to occasion as Kaio thwarted his attempts to get a grip on the mawashi before pressing forward in a counterattack to send the yokozuna backpedaling out of the ring.
Hakuho, who has dominated sumo since the retirement of former yokozuna Asashoryu last February, won his career 19th title at a meet that replaced the summer basho in the wake of a match-fixing scandal.
Asashoryu also won seven titles in a row.
Asked in the post-match interview his thoughts on winning seven straight titles, despite the spring meet in March being cancelled due to the bout-rigging scandal, Hakuho said, "I feel that I fulfilled my responsibility to respond to the fans' expectations at this meet after the earthquake and tsunami."
"But I never really thought of this as a test meet for myself. For me it was more of a pseudo-meet, or almost like an official meet. I wasn't able to win all my bouts, but I did my best under these circumstances," said Hakuho, who was not awarded the Emperor's Cup this time for his efforts.
Kaio finished on 9-6, just one win shy of Chiyonofuji's all-time mark of 1,045 career victories.
"It was little bit difficult to get a grip on his (Hakuho's) mawashi but once I had it I told myself, 'I'll never let go.' I was determined to remain calm," said Kaio. "I was very hyped for the match. My feelings are complicated at this type of tournament, but I know that a lot of people came out to watch sumo and I told myself to never forget that," he said.
As for being one win from Chiyonofuji's mark, Kaio said, "Under these (test meet) circumstances, I'm not thinking of that."
Harumafuji, who snapped Hakuho's winning streak at 17 bouts on the 13th day, never let Tochinoshin grab his mawashi before getting his right hand inside for a frontal force-out to end on 10-5.
Estonian ozeki Baruto, meanwhile, suffered his fifth defeat when sekiwake Kotoshogiku wrapped both hands around the bigger man before bellying him over the edge to finish on the same 10-5 mark.