Hakuho hits stride

by and

Kyodo News

NAGOYA — Hakuho is building his case as sumo’s coolest yokozuna, despite a gambling scandal rocking the ancient Japanese sport.

After shaking off the first-day jitters in possibly the most pressure-packed tournament of his career, Hakuho made mincemeat of Tochiozan in a matter of seconds on the second day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.

In the day’s finale at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Hakuho got both arms wrapped around the top-ranked maegashira before depositing him over the edge to make it two wins out of two. Tochiozan slipped to 1-1.

Over a dozen wrestlers have been suspended for the Nagoya meet after being implicated in a gambling scandal linked with Japan’s criminal underworld.

The lone yokozuna, who has admitted to making small bets on “hanafuda” card games, has decided to go without the shiny gold mawashi he sported at the last meet in May, instead donning a brown belt, so as to not draw attention to himself with sumo facing its biggest crisis ever.

With his 34th consecutive victory dating back to January, Hakuho surpassed his personal best. He is the hot favorite to win his 15th title here, although he would not receive an Emperor’s Cup since the sumo association has decided to forgo all awards due to the scandal.

Three of the four ozeki walked away with victories with Estonian Baruto the only one to bite the dust.

Baruto, appearing in his second meet at the ozeki rank, went stumbling over the edge to his first defeat after Russian Aran (1-1) dodged to the side at the charge following one false start.

Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu (2-0) toppled Mongolian Hakuba (0-2), getting the newly promoted komusubi hemmed up in a half-nelson before twisting him to the sandy surface.

Veteran Kaio (2-0) gave another vintage performance belying his years when he muscled out Mongolian Asasekiryu (0-2), using his favored left-leaning grip to lift the No. 1 maegashira over the straw bales.

Kaio, who turns 38 on July 24, is the last remaining Japanese wrestler at sumo’s second-highest rank.

Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji, meanwhile, rebounded from a first-day loss, shoving out Georgian Tochinoshin (0-2) after the newly promoted komusubi made a fierce charge at the faceoff.

Kisenosato heaved out Mongolian Kyokutenho (1-1), but fellow sekiwake Kotoshogiku (0-2) was shown an abrupt exit by second-ranked maegashira Aminishiki (1-1).