Yokozuna Harumafuji, who won his ninth career title at the just-ended Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, let his guard down to media after a hard-fought playoff bout against ozeki Goeido, allowing his dramatic come-from-behind victory to finally sink in.
“How delicious the sake tastes after you win,” said Harumafuji in the traditional morning-after press conference on Monday.
“At first I struggled to find the balance between my heart, technique and physique, and I was afraid of how it would turn out. But I’m really glad I was able to end on a good note. I was very focused and every day all I thought about was sumo,” he said.
The 33-year-old Mongolian, who captured his first title in the last seven meets, gave credit to the “okami-san,” or the stablemaster’s wife, who takes care of his Isegahama training base, saying she played a vital role by supporting him throughout the 15-day tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Despite insisting that he was feeling no pressure, Harumafuji was carrying a huge weight of expectation as the sole yokozuna competing, after three other grand champions — Kisenosato, Hakuho and Kakuryu — pulled out due to injuries.
After getting off to a 2-0 start, Harumafuji fell to three straight losses and entered the last day of the meet trailing Goeido by one win. He needed victory against the sole ozeki still in the tournament to force a championship playoff.
Two ozeki — Takayasu and Terunofuji — also withdrew, marking the first time in 99 years that three yokozuna and two ozeki missed all or part of a single basho.
It was the third time in history and first time since ozeki Musashimaru in 1996 that a wrestler chalked up as few as 11 wins on the way to a title. Harumafuji is the only yokozuna to have managed the feat.
The tournament was hit by a long list of injury absences in the top makuuchi division, but Harumafuji managed to live up to his lofty rank, much to his relief, and has already set his sights on a bigger goal.
“One of my goals has been to post double-digit wins, and I’m really eager to do that now,” he said. “I’m going to continue to devote myself to training and work hard toward my goal.”