Together with Asanoyama’s Ozeki promotion, the new sekitori have been announced. As expected, there are 3 promotions from Makushita to Juryo: Ms3e Asabenkei (6-1), Ms3w Fujiazuma (5-2), and Ms4e Chiyonoo (5-2). None are young rising stars—they are between 28 and 32 years old, all have been in the paid ranks before, and the last two have been in Makuuchi.
The corresponding demotions are not announced, but it’s easy to guess that going down to Makushita are J10 Yago (4-11), J12 Asagyokusei (5-10), and J13 Tomokaze (0-0-15). Missing out on promotion due to lack of available slots is Ms2w Kotodaigo (4-3).
Reports from Tokyo today that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee have agreed to postpone this year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The hope is to re-schedule the games for the summer of 2021, provided the threat of COVID-19 has been controlled by then. This move marks the biggest pandemic triggered postponement or cancellation in the world of sports to date, and comes on the heels of multiple national olympic teams requesting cancelation or postponement of the games. This is a huge blow to Japan, that has spent billions of Yen preparing for the games, building stadiums and venues, and Japanese businesses across the country, who had been gearing up for the massive influx of world tourists to enjoy the games.
For the world of sumo, it’s open knowledge that Yokozuna Hakuho was seeking to crown his matchless career with a ceremonial dohyo-iri at the Tokyo games this summer, after which it was expected he would retire. With the delay of the Olympics until next year, this throws the entire time table into doubt. Hakuho boosters would rightly reply, “Well, he can just stay in the sport and continue to dominate”. But as we saw at the end of Haru, Hakuho was physically struggling, though he continued to dominate. Sumo is an intense, combat driven sport, and the damage to the human body of years of competition is cumulative. We can imagine that Hakuho’s skill has not decreased on bit, but his body may be telling him that he is nearly done. The sumo public has no insight to just what challenges he faces every day he competes.
Team Tachiai hopes the re-scheduled Olympics in 2021 take place in a period of celebration as the world emerges from the pandemic, and the public across the globe turn to international sporting competition with hope and enthusiasm.
As reported today in the Japan Times, the Sumo Association has agreed that sumo rising star Asanoyama is to be promoted to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. In comments following the completion of the Haru basho in Osaka, the shimpan committee had broadly signaled that they would vote in favor to promote Asanoyama. There will be a formal meeting held on Wednesday to compile the May banzuke, which will mark the official promotion. Following this meeting, representatives from the association will travel to the Takasago stable to announce the promotion. For fans who have seen this in the past, such as Tochinoshin and Takakeisho, the Asanoyama, Takasago oyakata and Takasago okamisan will all be in formal clothes, and will assume a saikeirei bow, and accept the promotion.
Although Asanoyama feel short of the customary 33 wins over 3 tournaments from San’yaku (he ended the run with 32), the NSK has decided that sumo needs to replenish the upper ranks, and have wisely bestowed Ozeki on this talented young man. With the only remaining Ozeki hurt, and now kadoban, and both Yokozuna nearing the point of retirement, a strong, healthy and talented younger rikishi is a perfect promotion candidate. We think that we will see at least one more top rank promotion this year, and likely at least one more next year as the old guard continues to fade, and the next generation of kanban rikishi take their places.
Asanoyama won his first yusho in may of 2019 from Maegashira 8, finishing 12-3, and picking up 2 special prizes. He also is the only rikishi to ever be awarded the Trump Cup. Since then he has picked up 2 more special prizes and a jun-yusho. He has scored double digits in 5 of the last 6 basho. Tachiai predicts that if he can stay healthy and keep his body working well, Asanoyama will make a fine Ozeki.