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Monday, Jan. 9, 2012

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Start as you mean to go on: Hakuho (left) takes down Wakakoyu at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday. KYODO

Kisenosato, Hakuho roll; Kotoshogiku falls at New Year basho


By DAVE HUESTON
Kyodo

Newly promoted ozeki Kisenosato tossed aside Goeido to get off to a high-octane start, Kotoshogiku took a first-day spill and yokozuna Hakuho was his usual dominant self on the opening day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.

Kisenosato kept his eyes transfixed on Goeido as he blasted him with a torrent of shoves before sending his opponent fleeing over the edge at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

But Kotoshogiku, promoted to sumo's No. 2 rank after the autumn basho last year, never got rolling against Takekaze who slapped the ozeki down immediately after the face-off.

"I lost to Goeido at the last meet (in Kyushu) last year, so I just wanted to make sure my opponent never got inside for an attack," said Kisenosato, who got the green light for ozeki after the Kyushu basho. "I wasn't really that nervous. I just kept the pressure on him by pushing him down from above and stayed calm. This was a good start."

"Darn it! My sumo today was halfhearted," Kotoshogiku said. "I wasn't ready for the challenge and my body and mind were not in sync. I got ahead of myself when I should have been more relaxed."

After a tumultuous 2011 when sumo was mired in its worst-ever crisis due to a match-fixing scandal, the January meet kicked off to a packed house amidst much anticipation as the national sport attempts to clean up its tarnished image in 2012.

Although expectations are riding high with Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato having gained promotion, for the first time ever, there are no Japanese wrestlers amongst the 32 plaques of title winners draped around the auditorium.

Retired ozeki Tochiazuma's plaque from the 2006 New Year meet has been removed, leaving 20 of Mongolian Hakuho and the rest of other foreign wrestlers including former yokozuna Asashoryu, Mongolian Harumafuji and Bulgarian Kotooshu.

It's the first time since the 2010 summer basho that two Japanese ozeki are competing together, and fans are hoping one of them will be the first Japanese wrestler in six years to cart the coveted Emperor's Cup.

Hakuho, who is the strong favorite to match former yokozuna Takanohana with his 22nd career title, made mincemeat of Wakakoyu in the day's final bout, sending the new komusubi sprawling in a matter of seconds.

Asked for his thoughts on trying to tie Takanohana's record, Hakuho said, "This is just the start but of course I am thinking about it. If I put in the work I feel like I'll definitely be able to match it."

Harumafuji took care of Okinoumi in one swoop, getting his left hand inside for a tight grip on the mawashi before flinging his opponent over with an underarm throw.

Kotooshu unleashed a series of shoves against Aminishiki before getting both hands wrapped around the top-ranked maegashira and jolting his opponent over the ridge.



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