Foreigners Excel at National Sport: Sumo

Overlapping and eclipsed by Japan’s tortuous but exciting road to victory in the first World Baseball Classic and the start of Japan’s national high school baseball tournament at storied Koshien Stadium has been a rather exciting Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, where the foreigners were cheered as robustly as the Japanese—and did better, too.

The Estonian Baruto (the “Balt”) won the Juryo division (like North American baseball’s AAA league) with a perfect 15-0 record, the first rikishi to do so in over 40 years (since Kitanofuji).

Going into the final day, two Mongolians were tied for the lead in the Makuuchi division (the “majors”), with records of 13-1: yokozuna (grand champion) Asashoryu and sekiwake (junior champion) Hakuho. Moreover, Asashoryu’s only loss was to Hakuho, who had also beaten him in the previous tournament, so they were not scheduled to face off again—unless both lost on the final day. And, sure enough, both did lose. Hakuho fell to veteran Kaio, who was once again on the verge of demotion unless he maintained a winning record (the win put him at 8-7), while Asashoryu fell to ozeki (champion) Tochiazuma, who had been bucking for promotion to yokozuna, but whose 12-3 record—without a tournament win—won’t be good enough. So after all the regular bouts of the final day, Asashoryu and Hakuho had to come back and fight a deciding match, which Asashoryu had to struggle to win. So Asashoryu wins his 16th tournament, and Hakuho wins his 3rd outstanding performance award (and probably a promotion to ozeki).

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Filed under baseball, Japan, sumo

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