Chiyotaikai takes yusho as Asashoryu slips up

by Clyde Newton

Ozeki Chiyotaikai clinched his second championship on the final day of the Nagoya Basho as sekiwake Asashoryu lost his third bout to Wakanosato, thereby forfeiting his chance to compete in a playoff with Chiyo.

It was moot, anyway, as Chiyotaikai went on to easily defeat yokozuna Musashimaru. Chiyotaikai’s 14-1 performance was the best record in his career to date and his first yusho since January 1999, when he defeated then yokozuna Wakanohana in a playoff while still ranked at sekiwake.

Chiyotaikai, 26, has been ranked at ozeki for 21 tournaments, since March 1999, but has had an erratic record. This January, Chiyotaikai lost a 13-2 playoff to fellow ozeki Tochiazuma. In March he slipped to a losing 7-8 record, only to bounce back in May with an 11-4 mark. Chiyo will likely be promoted to yokozuna if he wins the yusho again in September with 13 or more wins.

There is an urgent need for a new yokozuna, with Takanohana almost certain to retire in September, if not earlier, and Musashimaru unpopular. Given his past performance, however, the odds that Chiyotaikai will triumph again in September are not very high. At his best, he is a powerful pusher-thruster, but when his tachiai falters, he does not have much of a defense to fall back upon.

Yokozuna Musashimaru, who looked likely to win his third consecutive yusho in the first week, fell apart in the final stretch, losing his fighting spirit and his last four bouts, to finish with a poor 10-5 record. His performance on the final day was shameful; he was bounced off the dohyo by a determined Chiyotaikai within the space of a couple of seconds.

Musashimaru is still the strongest rikishi in the Makunouchi, and certainly capable of winning more yusho. However, he needs more fighting spirit to live up to the demands of his rank. He cannot afford to throw in the towel, as he did after clinching the yusho last November and again this March and May, and again this tournament.

The exciting race for the yusho between Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu saved the Nagoya Basho was being a disaster. A total of 16 sekitori were absent (though Tamakasuga and Tochisakae returned to action in the final days), the greatest number of dropouts since November 1945, when 19 rikishi in Makunouchi and Juryo were absent. However, there were more sekitori in 1945 than there are now, and further, many of the absentees then were returning from the war.

The steadily increasing number of absentees is a disgrace and is likely the key factor contributing to the steadily declining attendance at hombasho. The Sumo Kyokai would be well advised to take the drastic but necessary step of abolishing or severely restricting the public absence (kosho) system, which allows rikishi to take a basho off without demotion if they can produce a physician’s certificate attesting that they have sustained an injury on the dohyo that requires two or months of treatment. The reality is that nearly all rikishi who withdraw during basho claim injuries requiring two months absence.

Yokozuna Takanohana has been absent for seven basho. Even the Sumo Kyokai has tired of waiting for him to return to action and he has been told to appear in September or retire. He has done no meaningful keiko for over a year, and the odds that he can get back in shape by September are not much better than zero. Taka turns 30 on August 12 and having reached the Makunouchi at the record early age of 17, he is worn-out and long past his prime. All that remains to be seen is whether he announces his retirement before the Aki Basho or chooses to make a last stand with no chance of survival, as his elder brother Wakanohana did in March 2000.

Ozeki Musoyama was absent for the entire Nagoya Basho, while Kaio and Tochiazuma dropped out in the first week. Kaio and Musoyama are likely to compete in September, while Tochiazuma may not return until November, as he has kosho status.

Sekiwake Asashoryu’s performance in July was outstanding, though he seemed to tire a little in the last few days. The 21-year-old Mongolian was undefeated until the 10th day, and until then he looked unstoppable.

Asashoryu showed a sense of maturity in his sumo which he has lacked until now. His relentless fighting spirit in the Nagoya Basho was matched only by that of Chiyotaikai. Asashoryu had 11 records at sekiwake in March and May, and combined with his 12-3 record this time, he has a total of 34 wins in the last three tournaments, surpassing the normal minimum standard for promotion to ozeki. Sources in the Sumo Kyokai have indicated that his promotion is certain to be ratified on Wednesday. He will become the first foreign-born rikishi to reach ozeki since Musashimaru in 1994.

Asashoryu looked bitterly disappointed on the final day, when he was thrown down by fellow sekiwake Wakanosato. It is just a question of time before Asashoryu wins his first yusho, however, and considering his youth, he has a good chance of becoming yokozuna in the future.

Wakanosato, back at sekiwake for the first time in a year, had a surprisingly strong 11-4 record. A rather orthodox, predictable rikishi, Wakanosato has tremendous power at yotsu-zumo and has the potential to reach ozeki. He will have to work hard to make the move now, however, but he now has a firm foundation with his impressive record this time.

Another surprise was 30-year-old Tosanoumi, who was back at komusubi for the first time in over two years. He was the only rikishi to upset Chiyotaikai. He ended up with a 10-5 record, beyond his wildest dreams, as well as the Shukunsho.

Former Ozeki Miyabiyama returned to komusubi in July, but fell short with a 6-9 mark. Though still youthful at 24, Miyabiyama seems to be only a shadow of the powerful rikishi he was before his promotion to ozeki in 2000. With Asashoryu moving up to ozeki and Miyabiyama back down to the maegashira level, Takamisakari and former ozeki Takanonami, who had a 9-6 record at No. 7 maegashira, are likely to move up to komusubi.

No. 2 maegashira Takamisakari and No. 8 Shimotori both performed extremely well in the Nagoya Basho. Shimotori upset yokozuna Musashimaru and won his first sansho prize.

The Nagoya Basho also saw a battle for survival for two aging Futagoyama Beya former sekiwake Akinoshima and Takatoriki. Akinoshima managed to hang on in Makunouchi with a 6-9 record, while Takatoriki, facing demotion to makushita and certain retirement, rallied in the last few days, and succeeded in winning his fifth bout on the senshuraku, sufficient to guarantee his survival in juryo for another tournament.

Asashoryu and Tosanoumi shared the Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award), while Shimotori, who achieved a stunning upset of Musashimaru on the 13th day, took the Kantosho (Fighting Spirit Prize). Takamisakari was awarded the Ginosho (Technique Prize).

The Juryo title was won by Ushiomaru, with a 13-2 record. Former Maegashira Kinkaiyama won the Makushita yusho with a 6-1 record, after a gruelling eight-way playoff. Tamaryoma won in Sandanme, Nadatsukasa in Jonidan, and Russian Roho in Jonokuchi, all with 7-0 records.