When it comes to sumo in 2022, we still live in a twilight world.
On the surface, much of the sport is back as it was in the pre-COVID era, but deeper, significant areas remain under pandemic-era restrictions.
The fallout of these restrictions can be seen online with the regular appearance of posts, both in Japanese and English, complaining about the lack of updates and detailed news on rikishi before each tournament.
Although capacity at the upcoming summer bout has been increased to 90% of available seats at Tokyo’s Kokugikan – with the expectation of a resumption of full capacity in July in Nagoya – press access to wrestlers, stablemasters and others in sport continues. to be severely reduced.
In-person interviews are still off the charts, while visiting stables is no start. Access to Kokugikan’s permanent press facilities is also difficult to organize.
Media members began booking private work rooms and attempting to conduct remote interviews with one or two rikishis whenever possible. However, unannounced cancellations, technical difficulties and other issues often occur, and even when all goes according to plan, the amount of information that can be gleaned from those video calls is far less than it was before the coronavirus.
Obviously, from the point of view of the fans, the most important thing is that the tournaments continue to take place and that their favorite fighters participate.
Virtually every fan of the sport would want more information, but it’s not their top priority, and ironically, not knowing the rikishi’s true health conditions, or how they performed in practice, can actually improve a particular aspect of watching the sport. sumo.
A reduction in the amount of detailed reports coming from sumo ensures that the surprise factor from tournament to tournament remains high and the unpredictability brings a kind of excitement of its own.
While it is important that more openness returns to the sport sooner rather than later, finding the upside when trying to get through a tough time can help.
This at least is a perspective that the runner-up at this year’s spring meeting seems to have to help him manage a bad ending in Kansai.
shaper ozeki Takayasu has been upbeat and positive since a heartbreaking defeat on the final day of the Osaka tournament snatched an Emperor’s Cup victory that seemed almost certain at one point.
The 32-year-old remains one of only two (out of 15) men promoted to the second highest degree of sumo since the year 2000 without a championship to his name.
After several near misses, the March crash seemed to many like a career-defining meltdown from which it would be difficult to recover psychologically.
However, in a week when NFL quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitted he couldn’t sleep for weeks after a playoff defeat last January and needed therapy to help him overcome what he called a “scar. deep “, it was nice to see Takayasu focusing on the future and talking about racing another title.
The Taganoura veteran faces a tough battle to finally break his duck. The kind of golden opportunity he had in March is unlikely to show up again this soon, and even if he does, past failures make it difficult to trust his ability to capitalize on it.
To the difficulty will be added the return to action yokozuna Terunofuji.
The only yokozuna in sport had numerous problems in 2022, but unlike Takayasu, Terunofuji seems to thrive under pressure.
Injuries, both recurring and new, are the biggest obstacle to the seventh title for the Mongol veteran, but Terunofuji has been training consistently over the past two weeks and remains by far the best sumo fighter when he is nearly healthy.
With a return story which is arguably the greatest in sumo history, it can be easy to forget that Terunofuji has only been a yokozuna since last September and has just completed three full tournaments to rank. Given his age and his condition, retirement is always looming present, but one or two other leagues (at least) seem doable before it’s over.
Among current ozeki, Mitakeumi seems like the best bet for claiming silverware. Injury problems and lack of form continue to hinder Takakeisho and Shodai. Both men have had some good points lately, but Mitakeumi is the most consistent ozeki in the sport right now. With his career is a sentence that still seems strange to write.
The lack of a completely healthy and dominant yokozuna has been one of the general plots of sumo in recent years. The decline and eventual withdrawal of Hakuho opened the doors to numerous champions for the first time. March saw another one in the shape of Wakatakakage. The stable man Arashio became the first newly promoted sekiwake to raise the Emperor’s Cup from Futabayama in 1936.
Nobody expects Wakatakakage to have a career as one of the sport’s most legendary figures, but his chances of becoming the first Japanese-born rikishi to win consecutive titles from Kisenosato in 2017 look good.
Though underpowered in general terms, the man from Toyo University brings an intensity to every encounter that few can handle. Over the past 12 months, his sumo has matured and a title challenge in May should create an ozeki race for Nagoya. If Wakatakakage repeats his March exploits, there is also the possibility that he could be promoted soon after the next fight.
Just below Wakatakakage in the junior category sanyaku ranks, seven defeats last time took some of the luster off the incoming Hoshoryu. Manage a record of wins in his own komusubi the debut, however, is a significant achievement, especially when it claimed four wins in the past five days.
Hoshoryu turns 23 on the last day of the May tournament, and while the Emperor’s Cup as a birthday present for himself doesn’t appear on the cards, a special prize is definitely available.
The youngster from the Tatsunami stable is still developing, both physically and in terms of skill. He hasn’t even come close to his full potential yet and with the sporting leaders imagining looking very different five years from now, his future looks bright.
Veterans with title-winning experience, grandchildren of the former Yokozuna and a lack of clarity about who is healthy and who isn’t should all combine to produce an exciting opening week of action. The overall parity of sumo right now also bodes well for another exciting and direct ending.
Veteran Ichinojo tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to skip the entire upcoming bout is the only dark cloud looming over the tournament and a reminder that the pandemic is still far from over.
Despite the increased availability, ticket sales have also not returned to where they were a few years ago, when entire tournaments in Tokyo would sell out almost immediately.
The premium seats on the first floor are gone, but some of the more desirable chairs on the second floor, even on opening and closing days, remain available.
“Doing better but with room for improvement in key areas” is a descriptor that fits both sumo in general and many of its title contenders heading into the summer bout.
Once the action in the ring has begun, concerns will likely take a back seat as Japan’s national sport continues to deliver compelling drama on a bimonthly basis.
The May tournament should be good. Being the last one most affected by the pandemic would make it better.
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