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Thursday, Sep. 29, 2011

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Aki goes pear shaped for Harumafuji as Hakuho notches No. 20


Special to The Japan Times Online

On Day 1, popular ozeki Harumafuji downed komusubi Toyonoshima in a match that had the audience at the Kokugikan clapping wildly and looking forward to a tournament in which the smallest man in the second rank would make a run for yokozuna grand champion status, following his championship win back in Nagoya in July. Toyonoshima, for his part, was on course for an awful first week, after the midway point posting a miserable 1-7 score before bouncing back to win the final seven days and walk away with an 8-7 winning record — the second time he has done so in Tokyo this year.

Come Day 4, however, following two losses to maegashira 1 men Okinoumi and Homasho, and then an incredible loss to the maegashira 3 ranked Takekaze who could only end the tournament with a 5-10 record, the yokozuna run was well and truly over.

Harumafuji went on to lose another four times, finished with a less than respectable (for an ozeki) 8-7, beat nobody ranked equal to or above him, and must now start from square one if he ever wants to attain the sport's top rank in the future. The wheels coming off his own quest, though, only served to focus attention elsewhere on the banzuke with Kotoshogiku and his fellow sekiwake Kisenosato the main beneficiaries.

Both men pushed Hakuho till the final day for the championship, and indeed both defeated him on back to back days in the second week. The yokozuna thereafter only claiming his 20th title with a 13-2 record after he threw Harumafuji to the dirt in the last bout of the tournament, but this only guaranteeing his victory thanks to ozeki Baruto (10-5) managing to manhandle Kotoshogiku (12-3) with the same uwatenage (overarm throw) technique earlier in the day.

In losing his shot at the title though, Kotoshogiku of Sadogatake Beya walked away with a 33-12 win-loss record, made over the last three tournaments as a sekiwake, in the knowledge that he had likely done enough to secure promotion to ozeki.

Kisenosato, meanwhile, equaled Kotoshogiku's 12-3 score, along the way losing to the now newly promoted ozeki as well as Baruto and Harumafuji, but is now 22-8 in the last two basho at rank so an 11 or 12 final day score in Fukuoka in November should see him promoted to ozeki too come the January, 2012 tourney.

Following the departure of long time ozeki Kaio during the Nagoya tournament in the summer, and with the domestic media panicking over the lack of any Japanese born grapplers in the top two ranks, Kotoshogiku, from Fukuoka as was Kaio, is now seen as the next generation of sorts. Just a few months shy of his 28th birthday, though, it is safe to say he has now peaked and will do well to stay at the rank until his retirement perhaps four or five years from now.

Indeed, it would not be too unrealistic to view him as a placeholder of sorts until Kisenosato gets to the same rank, hopefully early next year.

Just turned 25, Kise is perhaps the best Japanese hope at staking a longer-term claim in the uppermost ranks right now as they wait for the more youthful rikishi to make their way up the banzuke and save face for the home nation.

There may be a championship or two along the way if either man is really on form, but Kisenosato too will likely peak at ozeki such is his tendency to blow hot and cold.

One interesting observation made on the final day following the admittedly impressive results of both the K-men — Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato — centers on their seniors currently filling the ozeki slots, Kotooshu, Harumafuji and Baruto.

Two, Kotooshu and Harumafuji, are fast approaching 30 and both men are known for their still strong links to their respective Bulgarian and Mongolian homelands. Both Baruto and Kotooshu have long-standing injuries that just never seem to go away, and, given a few hard knocks in the coming years may decide to call it a day in the not too distant future if the stars line up in a less than fortuitous way.

Kotoshogiku can safely be added to that scenario of being gone before the middle of the decade age wise which means there is the very real possibility of a rikishi void at the top of sumo in the foreseeable future with the lack of clearly outstanding talent on their way up — Japanese or otherwise.

So, could 2015 or thereabouts see sumo with one Mongolian yokozuna and an aging Kisenosato as ozeki ruling the roost? Hakuho will then be just turning 30 and likely surpassing the yusho tally of former great Taiho from the '60s and '70s if he keeps up his current dominance. Kise will only be 29, and he has already shown himself as a late bloomer.

And down below, in terms of noticeable talent we have . . . not too much at present.



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