Hakuho poised for run at Futabayama’s mark

by David Hueston

FUKUOKA — For a grand champion of this stature, life all boils down to a few critical moments. Hakuho faces his moment of truth in the final meet of the year at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament starting Sunday.

The Mongolian yokozuna is flirting with history in his quest to equal or surpass the record 69-bout winning streak of yokozuna great Futabayama — a superhuman feat some have compared to New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak that still stands today in the major leagues.

Currently at 62, Hakuho can equal the mark on the seventh day of the 15-day meet at Fukuoka Kokusai Center and put himself into the record books as the only man to ever have achieved 70 consecutive wins on the eighth day.

He is likely to face his toughest challenge on the first five days while he tries to shake off the jitters that inevitably come with the mammoth task at hand. Hakuho will be on high alert on the second day against Kisenosato, who has beaten the yokozuna in the past, although not recently.

Aminishiki, who has seven “kinboshi,” or career wins against yokozuna, to his name, is another clear and present danger who could cause serious problems for Hakuho during the first week.

The 25-year-old Hakuho was on a steady training schedule ahead of the meet and odds are that barring an injury or some other catastrophe, there will be no one to derail him.

He is seeking an unprecedented fifth consecutive undefeated title and 17th career Emperor’s Cup. If Hakuho can finish the meet with a perfect 15-0 record, he will surpass Futabayama and Taiho to sit alone on the all-time list with nine perfect championship victories.

He would also go one better than his own mark for the most victories in a single year of 86.

Before the meet, Hakuho visited the birthplace of the legendary Futabayama in Usa, Oita Prefecture, to gain some perspective and pay his respects to his idol.

“I don’t know if I can surpass the record but I intend to give it my heart and soul to repay my debt of gratitude to sumo and Futabayama,” said Hakuho.

Hakuho soaked up the atmosphere there for about one hour.

“I have wanted to visit his birthplace since my days as a komusubi (sumo’s fourth-highest rank). I feel emboldened as the opening day of the meet approaches,” said Hakuho.

Chiyonofuji, who takes the stablemaster name Kokonoe and is in charge of regional tours, said that one of the reasons for Hakuho’s success is his constant thirst for perfection.