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Monday, Aug. 1, 2011

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Kaio calls it quits, while Harumafuji secures a shot at yokozuna promotion


Special to The Japan Times Online

From Day 1 at the recent Nagoya Basho the vultures were circling. Some went after the admittedly pathetically low attendances on the first few days of the basho as a sign that all is not well with the public's perception of sumo in the wake of the yaocho bout-buying scandal. Two of the first three days had attendances under half of the 8,000 capacity of the prefectural gymnasium, and the other day — a Sunday- peaked at 5,500. Unfortunately the same low attendances that affected the first few days persisted throughout. But for any long-term follower of sumo, the poor attendance at Nagoya Basho should come as no surprise.

Perhaps this is due in part to the notorious stifling heat of Aichi Prefecture at the height of summer. Or perhaps the scandals over the past three or four years really have — or are proving to be — the straw that has broken sumo's back. Whatever the reason for the disappointing numbers attending — and in reality each of the aforementioned possibilities can likely be factored in — times are still looking tough for the sport, and the reasons for the tourney to keep returning to Nagoya year in, year out are looking less and less viable. Hopefully therefore, the powers that be in the Sumo Association will take more seriously the idea of the Nagoya Basho "going on the road" each year from 2012.

One potential silver lining of the basho for the naysayers bored with the recent dominance of Hakuho though was seen in the shape of his fellow Mongolian Harumafuji, who walked away with his second yusho to date after a brilliant 14-1 finish. Baruto, the other ozeki predicted to come though in Nagoya, also performed admirably — finishing 11-4 — although he had a well-known recurring leg injury.

In the ozeki ranks, however, perhaps the biggest news to emerge from Nagoya was the second week retirement of Kaio. This had been expected in sumo circles for around three or four years, but he somehow always clung on to his rank. In doing so, just this very basho he broke a long standing number of bouts won record held by former yokozuna Chiyonofuji to end his career days later with 1,047 wins from 1,731 bouts fought over an amazing 140 tournaments in the sport. Losing on the 10th day, to go 3-7, he was then faced with the embarrassment of a makekoshi losing record should he lose again in the last five days against opponents of the same or higher rank, so finally decided to call it a day.

Okinoumi, predicted to have a solid tourney, only just scraped to an 8-7 record but should have done better after a great first week that saw him 5-2 come the middle weekend. Goeido and fellow komusubi Tochinoshin did choke, unfortunately, and will both have to start again to reach sanyaku. Goeido from Osaka recorded a losing record as early as mid-basho, while Tochinoshin didn't need much longer.

One of the more pleasant surprises of the tournament lower in the top division, though, was the very impressive 10-5 put in by Tamanoi man, and makunouchi newbie Fujiazuma. The senior ranked rikishi of the heya now run by former ozeki Tochiazuma, himself the last Japanese man to actually win an Emperor's Cup in January 2006, he will find himself in mid to upper maegashira come his home basho in Tokyo in September. Throughout the first week he appeared uncannily like his mentor at times even if he did tire in the home strait — winning just three of his last seven.

It will be to the rank of ozeki, with Harumafuji looking to secure promotion to yokozuna by winning the tournament in September, that many will be looking, but the sekiwake trio of Kotoshogiku (11-4), Kisenosato (10-5), and Kakuryu (10-5) are all within grasp of promotion to ozeki with a good basho come senshuraku. That said, given that the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo in September will be the first since early 1993 with no Japanese in the upper two ranks, and with the domestic fan base at least hoping local lads Kotoshogiku or Kisenosato come through to reach the second rank, this is not something that bodes well if their recent September tournament records are checked, as neither has put up double figures in the penultimate basho of the year since 2007!



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