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Hakuho starts strong as ‘test meet’ begins

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Yokozuna Hakuho got back to the earnest business of winning Sunday, putting on his bravest face at a meet which this time is only for show.

After a match-fixing scandal caused the cancellation of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March and following an earthquake and tsunami in the northeastern Japan — one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history — sumo resumed with a “test meet” to a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

In the day’s final bout, Hakuho kept a watchful eye on Toyonoshima before calmly blasting the diminutive komusubi into the ringside seats with a rapid-fire salvo of slaps.

“I didn’t want to think too much, but I had a good sumo bout today,” Hakuho said of his first match in nearly four months.

“I would be lying if I said I haven’t been affected by the scandal, but I have prepared well for this meet. I feel the joy of sumo again,” he said.

The summer basho was replaced with a “Technical Examination Tournament,” as the Japan Sumo Association grapples with regaining the public’s trust following the scandal.

Although no prizes, including the Emperor’s Cup trophy awarded to the tournament winner, will be offered, performances will be gauged to draft the banzuke rankings for the Nagoya meet in July.

“It has been a dark situation for a long time now. But I’ve gotten through with the first day of competition. I am happy I could wrestle well,” said Hakuho.

JSA chairman Hanaregoma spoke in his opening address flanked by Hakuho and the ozeki wrestlers before the day’s featured bouts got under way at the 15-day meet, which will be free of charge to the public.

“I would like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of the March 11 disaster. We are praying for a swift recovery to the region. As far as the problem with intentional spiritless sumo, we want to deeply apologize to the fans for the trouble that has been caused,” Hanaregoma said.