Plenty to unpack after eventful, unforgettable year in sumo

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Unpacking all that occurred in sumo over the previous twelve months is not any easy activity.

Each single basho in 2020 contained what felt like a number of tournaments value of storylines, whereas occasions outdoors the ring all year long at occasions got here near overshadowing the relentlessly thrilling motion inside it.

The COVID-19 associated demise of 28-year-old wrestler Shobushi, following the primary match in historical past held with out followers, was a low, however sumo someway managed to maintain going and supplied much-needed distraction in a troublesome 12 months.

On the dohyō, Terunofuji was the clear front-runner when it got here to selecting the standout rikishi of 2020.

Takakeisho and Shodai might have had their moments, however the former ozeki’s return from large damage and crippling sickness has to go down as one of many sport’s all-time nice comebacks.

After greater than a 12 months and a half in sumo’s wilderness, Terunofuji re-appeared within the paid ranks in January and promptly dispelled all doubts in regards to the potential of his shattered knees to deal with the pains of top-class sumo.

With double-digit wins in 4 of 5 tournaments, together with three 13-2 efforts, the large Mongolian was excellent in 2020.

Lifting the Emperor’s Cup for a second time in July and coming inside a whisker of doing so once more in November, Terunofuji set himself up for a possible return to ozeki early subsequent 12 months and, with few rikishi on the banzuke capable of deal with his energy, a attainable shot at what can be the final word Hollywood ending — promotion to yokozuna.

Over the summer time, as Terunofuji was savoring the rewards of perseverance, former komusubi Abi was struggling the results of laxity.

Whereas the Shikoroyama steady man’s earlier indiscretions had amounted to little greater than infantile pranks or immaturity, Abi’s flouting of the Japan Sumo Affiliation’s coronavirus protocols and his placing the lives of others in danger so quickly after the demise of a rikishi was utterly unacceptable. The next harsh punishment that he acquired was totally deserved.

That three-tournament ban additionally served as a stark warning to others to not step out of line.

Whether or not or not you agree with the heavy-handed restrictions imposed on wrestlers, or certainly the social media ban imposed after one in every of Abi’s earlier lapses, sumo being spared the form of common — and frustratingly idiotic — actions and statements of athletes in different sports activities regarding the coronavirus is blessed reduction.

The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament was held behind closed doors in Osaka in March. | KYODO
The Spring Grand Sumo Event was held behind closed doorways in Osaka in March. | KYODO

As Abi started his freefall down the banzuke, a number of stars of the long run have been climbing those self same rankings.

Kotoshoho, a 21-year-old who solely joined sumo in 2017, seemingly flew beneath the radar of lots of people, however the Sadogatake beya teen had one the extra spectacular showings in 2020.

Regardless of his age and lack of expertise on the highest ranges, Kotoshoho continued a streak of profitable data that stretches all the best way again to his makushita division debut in 2018.

Solely as soon as in six tournaments as a sekitori has he entered the ultimate weekend not having already secured the eight wins wanted for promotion, and the Chiba native has but to mount the ring on Day 15 with a shedding report — and even the opportunity of one.

Issues get exponentially harder for Kotoshoho beginning in January however, given that he’s 3-0 in opposition to sekiwake and komusubi ranked opponents thus far, he appears to be like like an excellent guess to carry his personal on the sharper finish of the highest division.

No matter how properly he does, although, Kotoshoho would wish to remain in sumo for 3 extra a long time to equal the mark set by one other wrestler in 2020.

Hanakaze, who has by no means made it out of sumo’s lowest three divisions, celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Might. In a sport the place most members are properly into the decline section by age 30, persevering with to get into the ring and battle on the half century mark is an astounding achievement. Hanakaze may properly surpass the report for oldest rikishi ever — which was set within the late 1790s!

Kotoshoho would wish to compete in 180 extra tournaments to equal the quantity which have already had Hanakaze as a participant.

COVID-19 has dilated time to such an extent that Tokushoryu’s unimaginable out of the blue victory final January appears for much longer in the past.

Downing Shodai and Takakeisho over the ultimate two days to elevate the Emperor’s Cup whereas ranked on the very backside of the makuuchi division positioned the Nara native among the many ranks of probably the most stunning champions in sumo historical past. His emotional speech and demeanor afterwards received Tokushoryu a legion of latest followers and gave sumo the very best begin to 2020.

In fact, all of it went downhill fairly rapidly quickly afterwards, however at the same time as issues continued to darken outdoors the ring, the thrill inside it by no means let up.

March noticed sumo carried out in silence, however that allowed followers watching at residence, particularly those that had by no means been to a dwell match, to expertise the game in an intimate approach by no means earlier than attainable.

If something, listening to every breath and footfall, whereas listening to the creaking of mawashi and the sound of salt falling on the ring, gave individuals a brand new appreciation for sumo, and one which stood it in good stead because the challenges mounted.

Nobody is aware of what subsequent 12 months will maintain. All of us hope for a brighter future, however as 2020 has proven, even at nighttime occasions sumo can perform as each a launch and a reduction.

So, if 2021 doesn’t end up the best way all of us hope, not less than there’ll nonetheless be sumo.

Pleased new 12 months everybody.

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