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Harumafuji captures title at Nagoya Basho

Kyodo

Harumafuji defeated fellow Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho on Sunday to win the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament and seize his eighth career championship.

Harumafuji entered the tournament finale needing a win to avoid a three-way championship playoff after No. 10 maegashira Takanoiwa and ozeki Kisenosato each improved to 12-3 in their bouts.

With the two yokozuna near stalemate in the middle of the ring, Hakuho (10-5) repeatedly stretched for a left-handed belt hold, but Harumafuji managed to keep that prize out of reach. And then, in a flash, Harumafuji moved in for the kill, grabbing another hold on the back of his rival’s belt and forcing him out to finish with a 13-2 record.

“I’ve been fortunate here. I love the people of Nagoya,” said Harumafuji, who has won three of his eight championships here.

“The accumulated effort of each and every day got me to today. I focused on giving everything I had and leaving with no regrets.

“I’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries lately, but I was able to win because of my stablemaster’s help and the support of sumo-loving fans. I felt like I could really put everything on the line in every bout, every day.”

Harumafuji’s triumph ended Kisenosato’s hopes of ascending to sumo’s highest rank. Kisenosato, in his third yokozuna promotion bid, entered the 15th and final day at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium needing a win and a loss by Harumafuji to force a playoff.

Kisenosato remained poised and in line for a potential playoff by keeping his cool as fellow ozeki Goeido crashed into him. But Goeido achieved nothing with his charge, was easily forced back to the edge of the ring and shoved out to a 7-8 record by his more experienced colleague.

Although Kisenosato failed to achieve his lofty goal, he will take his fourth shot at yokozuna promotion in September, according to the director of the Japan Sumo Association’s judging department.

“If he wins a championship (in September), everyone will be satisfied,” sumo elder Nishonoseki said.

JSA chairman Hakkaku said of Kisenosato, who has 38 wins over his last three tournaments, “He performed well under pressure. I’d like to see him win a championship at the next grand tournament.”

At that tournament, Goeido’s ozeki ranking will be at stake. And like Terunofuji this time, Goeido will need eight wins to retain his rank.

Takanoiwa also stayed in the hunt until the end. He survived a scare against No. 5 maegashira Yoshikaze, who backed him to the top of the straw bales. But Yoshikaze (10-5) lost his grip on Takanoiwa’s belt at the last. As Yoshikaze reared back to shove his man over the edge, the Mongolian No. 10 turned the bout around in the blink of an eye. Using his left-hand grip as leverage, Takanoiwa forced Yoshikaze backward and forced him out.

Hobbled ozeki Terunofuji (8-7) staved off demotion at the last gasp by finishing the tournament with a winning record, grabbing Brazilian sekiwake Kaisei’s left leg and tipping him over to an eighth defeat. Struggling with two bad knees, the Mongolian ozeki was in his element against a slower opponent. With Kaisei teetering with one leg in the area, Terunofuji seized the opportunity to finish him off.

Second-ranked maegashira Takarafuji (10-5), who stopped Hakuho’s 33-match winning streak, and Takanoiwa both broke into the ranks of award winners for the first time, when they each received a Fighting Spirit Prize.

Yoshikaze, who counted Harumafuji among his victims here, took home his second Outstanding Performance Prize. Komusubi Takayasu (11-4), who defeated all three ozeki he faced, won his first Technique Prize.