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Kotoshogiku faces uphill battle to maintain winning form

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Every four years just before the Olympic Games begin, the Japanese broadcast, online and print media announce with the confidence bordering on arrogance just how many gold medals the nation’s athletes are “expected” to win. The figure is always given as the “minimum expected.”

Rarely do the athletes live up to expectations regardless of the magnificent efforts each and every one of them makes.

Similarly, in the run-up to the soccer World Cup the same enthusiasm emerges. Reaching the quarterfinals, possibly even the semis is now the minimum expected of the men’s team.

Assurances of such are to be found all over the domestic media. Yet in five attempts since 1998, the Round of 16 is as far as Japan’s men have ever got despite valiant efforts at times; a level rarely appreciated by medal hungry pundits.

The women’s game, of course, has seen Nadeshiko Japan win one World Cup and finish runner-up once, albeit in tournaments with half the number of teams as in the men’s World Cup.

In sumo, the same, oftentimes unrealistic expectations can often be heard once a Japanese wrestler pokes his head above the parapet of mediocrity so often the “norm” since former ozeki Tochiazuma won the Hatsu Basho in January 2006.

And, exactly 10 years after Tochiazuma’s 2006 triumph history has in large part been seen to repeat itself following Kotoshogiku’s out-of-the-blue Hatsu Basho win last month.

As the first Japanese yusho winner in a decade the accolades, TV appearances and even global media interest in the sport were expected.

My own phone did not stop ringing for days! A dozen or more radio interviews and requests from newspapers looking for what this means to the sport later, however, and the interest began to wane from overseas.

But not in Japan.

Barely a day goes by without seeing Kotoshogiku on TV, making a public appearance some place or other, or posing in a photo shoot.

In Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture, home of Sadogatake Beya — and Kotoshogiku — the local authorities pasted an image of the ozeki on the side of an official government vehicle.

A victory parade attracted a rumored 55,000.

That he was finally able to celebrate his marriage with a wedding reception attended by hundreds made evening news and morning-after headlines around Japan.

The only things he appears yet to have been asked to do is kiss a baby or launch a ship. Maybe he did and I missed it.

Kotoshogiku, always amiable was on the ascendancy from the moment he won the yusho, and worryingly, still is.

The dust has yet to settle despite fans, others in the sport, and the domestic media now starting to look ahead to the March 13-27 Haru Basho in Osaka.

There has yet to be a single reports of Kotoshogiku starting his now famous training regime ahead of Osaka, and as popular as he is, like all ozeki following their time as flavor of the month following a first yusho, none of it will matter if he fails to put up the numbers in his next outing.

Dozens of ozeki over the years have won a single yusho, shone in the spotlight briefly, and partly as a result of being distracted but primarily because of a lack of training, have flopped next time out.

Some — former ozekis Kaio and Chiyotaikai most recently perhaps — went through this cycle several times over.

Neither man was eventually able to win back-to-back tourneys and secure a promotion to yokozuna.

I fear this is exactly what will happen with Kotoshogiku.

The Fukuoka native is now a marked man in much the same way Hakuho has been marked for nine years since becoming a yokozuna.

Every single day, every single training bout or competitive match Hakuho’s opponents have wanted to walk away knowing they had the better of the sport’s best-ever yokozuna.

Everybody wants to beat the champ, the top dog.

Kotoshogiku, by way of his January yusho is top dog, albeit temporarily.

Lower-ranked wrestlers give it their all, peers dig a little deeper to be able to knock off last season’s No. 1.

As for the three Mongolians at the pinnacle of the sport, Hakuho, Harumafuji and Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku’s victory last month will be one they want to avenge and avenge quickly.

Odds are they will, and rather quickly to boot. Never as an ozeki has Kotoshogiku ended an Osaka Basho with double figures. His best effort was a mediocre 9-6 back in 2012.

Three other appearances in Osaka as an ozeki have seen him post the bare minimum winning record of 8-7, although 11 years ago in 2005, in the second division he did manage a 13-2 record to take the juryo yusho that year.

Don’t expect a repeat in the top makunouchi division, though.

I, for one, will be impressed if the 32-year-old will post anything better than an 8-7, possibly a 9-6.

Time will tell.