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Hakuho relieved to finish difficult year on winning note

Kyodo

After a scandal surrounding the national sport ironically drew more attention to the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, tournament champion Hakuho said Monday he was pleased to provide some positive headlines.

Speaking to reporters at the traditional morning-after news conference, Hakuho, who won an unprecedented 40th title in the Nov. 12-26 tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center, said ending the year on a winning note means a lot to him.

“It makes me more emotional because I clinched the championship on the 14th day,” said Hakuho, the only yokozuna who competed through the sixth and final sumo tournament of the calendar year.

“Of course there’s the 40th title but that feeling of closing the year strong is bigger,” he said.

Despite questions over the fate of fellow yokozuna Harumafuji after an alleged assault of lower-ranking Takanoiwa, Hakuho said he has taken his share of responsibility by touching on the subject and apologizing to the fans in his victory speech on Sunday.

Hakuho, who was present when the assault took place during the regional tour in Tottori, said after lifting the Emperor’s Cup that he wants to see both Harumafuji and Takanoiwa back in the dohyo ring.

“As a representative of all rikishi I wanted to deliver the message in my own words. The rest I’d like to leave in the hands of the organization (Japan Sumo Association) and those in charge,” he said.

Hakuho, who is scheduled to undergo police questioning, said he will just “tell them exactly what I saw.”

In the absence of three yokozuna and one ozeki, Hakuho defeated No. 9 maegashira Endo on Saturday to improve to 13-1 and clinch his championship with one day remaining in the Kyushu meet.

With a win over Goeido on the final day, Hakuho finished at 14-1 for his first victory in two meets and third this year. Hakuho also won July’s Nagoya tournament and May’s summer tournament.

He withdrew midway into the spring meet in March and missed the entire autumn tournament in September because of pain in his left knee.

The 32-year-old Mongolian also said he was proud to see up-and-coming wrestlers make their mark in the Kyushu tournament as he plans to get out of the way of the next generation after he takes part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“The bigger the wall you’re up against, the stronger the wrestler becomes. In some ways, I’ve managed to be a wall,” Hakuho said.

“After the Olympics? (I’m quitting) without hesitation. I’ll be glad to see a youngster I can hand over the baton to.”