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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 9

And so we move into Week 2 of the Hatsu Basho. Yokozuna Hakuho remains alone atop the leaderboard, having secured his eighth win yesterday. Three rikishi are one win off the pace with 7–1 records—M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni.

It was touching to see the Emperor and Empress yesterday, particularly knowing that it was probably the final time the will visit the royal box. The crowd was clearly emotional about it, too, and even as a relatively detached gaijin, I found myself getting a little misty as the royals waved on their way out of the stadium and the audience sent them off to “banzai” cheers.

Hakuho continues to look more and more solid as the days pass. He rolled M5 Aoiyama pretty easily for his eighth win, and handing the big Bulgarian his third loss. With all that he has accomplished at this point in his career, I often wonder what there is left for him to aim for. Of course, Hakuho has said that he wants to remain active through the 2020 Olympics, so that he can do his yokozuna dohyo-iri [ring entering ceremony] in front of the entire world, but I couldn’t imagine what else he was using to challenge himself. During commentary over the weekend, though, one of the reporters talked about some goals that Hakuho has recently mentioned in the Japanese press.

Hakuho turned 33 years old last year, and that plays into a new set of goals, linked to how well legendary yokozuna Chiyonofuji did late in his storied career. Hakuho wants to beat Chiyonofuji’s record for most yusho [tournament championships] won after his 33rd birthday—that number being 8. Having only managed to win 1 basho last year, that means that Hakuho still has to lift the Emperor’s Cup eight more times to set a new mark. Since he’s already won 42 yusho (an all-time record), that means that if he meets that goal he will also reach a career total of 50, a mark that many people have called “impossible.” He also wants to stay active as a yokozuna longer than Chiyonofuji, who retired at the age of 35 years and 11 months—so Hakuho’s goal is to still be fighting when he’s 36 years old. So I guess that, health allowing, we can count on him being in the mix for another three years or more.

Yesterday’s marquee match was the one between sekiwake Takakeisho and M6 Onosho, two of the brighter stars from the next-generation of rikishi that are climbing the banzuke. Takakeisho won, leaving both rikishi with 6–2 records and hoping for some slippage on the leaderboard to let them back into the yusho race proper.

Meanwhile, both remaining ozeki lost yesterday—AGAIN. Takayasu slipped to 4–4 as he looked completely unfocused against M3 Shohozan. His opponent pulled a henka [sidestep at the initial charge] and Takayasu just barreled forward with his head down, basically tripping over his own feet. On the other hand, Goeido got pushed around and tossed to the clay by sekiwake Tamawashi, leaving him with 3–5 record. Both ozeki are going to have to work hard in Week 2 if they want to avoid make-koshi [majority of losses] and being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in the March tournament (a fate that is already certain for kyujo [absent due to injury] ozeki Tochinoshin).

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M15 Chiyonokuni (7–1) vs. M12 Meisei (6–2)—Chiyonokuni is currently tied for second place and is going for his kach-koshi today. Meisei, on the other hand, is on a six match winning streak. (2:15)
M13 Yago (7–1) vs. M11 Ikioi (4–4)—Yago is another second-place rikishi going for kachi-koshi. He faces the iron rikishi Ikioi. (3:40)
M7 Ryuden (2–6) vs. M8 Kaisei (7–1)—Kaisei is also going for his kachi-koshi and to remain in the midst of the yusho race. Ryuden is a strong young rikishi who has been struggling this basho. (5:35)
Ozeki Takayasu (4–4) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (6–2)—Takayasu must win four of his remaining seven matches to avoid make-koshi. Meanwhile, Tamawashi is having a good first tournament back at sumo’s third-highest rank (he spent most of 2017 as a sekiwake). (10:50)
M4 Okinoumi (5–3) vs. Ozeki Goeido (3–5)—Goeido must win five of his remaining seven matches to avoid make-koshi. He’s fighting against often inconsistent Okinoumi who has had a pretty good tournament so far. (11:35)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—These two have fought sixty-one times in the past, and Hakuho has won fifty-five of those matches. There are 44 kensho [sponsorship] envelopes on the line, though, so that’s a pretty good motivation for the former-ozeki to give it his best shot one more time. (12:30)

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