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Champion Tochinoshin finishes New Year Basho in style

Kyodo

A day after clinching his first championship, Tochinoshin finished the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday by dispatching fan-favorite Endo to finish with a 14-1 record.

Tochinoshin, a third-ranked maegashira, survived a scare when he was pushed towards the edge, but he pulled himself together to force Endo (9-6) out at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

For his achievements, the Kasugano stable’s new hero received his first Outstanding Performance prize and his second Technique prize, his first since the May meet in 2016. The 30-year-old became the first wrestler to win two prizes in a single meet since the 2015 Autumn tourney.

“I clinched the championship yesterday, but wanted to finish the basho with a win so I’m glad,” Tochinoshin said. “It’s been 12 years since I entered the sport, but I never thought I could win a championship.

“I was in a good condition and my training before the meet went well, but I didn’t imagine I would win.”

Tochinoshin added that the thought of winning a championship only occurred to him on the 10th day of the meet and that he told his family in Georgia the news on Saturday night.

“They were really happy, I cried when I told them,” Tochinoshin said.

Tochinoshin’s sole loss came on Day 7 against yokozuna Kakuryu, who threw ozeki Goeido (8-7) to snap a four-match losing streak and finish at 11-4.

Kakuryu, whose career was clouded by injuries last year, was able to complete a meet for the first time since March. He was the only yokozuna remaining in the tournament after Hakuho and Kisenosato pulled out due to injury.

The final day of the elite makuuchi division opened with an apology by Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku over the scandals that have rocked the ancient sport, including an assault that led to the retirement of yokozuna Harumafuji in November.

“We apologize to sumo fans for worrying them since the end of last year,” said Hakkaku. “The JSA will make a serious effort to prevent these incidents from happening again.”

The chairman had been criticized for failing to include an apology in his greeting to fans on the tournament’s first day. Despite the bad publicity, all 15 days of the tourney were announced as being sold out.

No. 16 Ryuden and No. 14 Abi each earned a Fighting Spirit prize for finishing 10-5 in their top-tier debuts, although Ryuden lost to No. 9 Chiyomaru (9-6) on the final day.

“I’m honestly really happy. My goal was to record double-digit wins,” Ryuden said. “I wanted to win today too but I lost. Now I want to try hard for the next basho.”

After a matta false start by No. 9 Shohozan (9-6), the 23-year-old Abi showed his confidence against the 33-year-old former komusubi. Abi shoved his opponent toward the edge, and as Shohozan turned around, the Shikoroyama stable wrestler gave him a final push.

“I was really nervous before the matta, but I was able to calm down because of it,” Abi said. “Everything went so well to the point of it getting scary.”

Ozeki Takayasu won his bout against sekiwake Mitakeumi (8-7) and completed the basho with a 12-3 record, his best since he first wrestled at sumo’s second-highest rank in July.