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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Injured Yokozuna Hakuho, Kakuryu Move a Step Closer to End of Sumo Careers

How much longer will Hakuho and Kakuryu hold off on retirement as injuries take their toll?

Ed Odeven

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Legendary yokozuna Hakuho, who has been hobbled by injuries since winning his most recent Emperor’s Cup, is now 36 years old.

Fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu, whose physical ailments have kept him out of the raised ring repeatedly over the past year, will turn 36 on August 10.

The end of both grapplers’ careers is on the horizon. The question, though, is this: Will either man be a factor again in the quest for the Emperor’s Cup?

This reporter believes it would be a huge surprise if either man is still a legitimate factor in the makuuchi divisions (sumo’s top division) at this time next year.

The physical wear and tear that the sport imposes on wrestlers leads to a long list of injuries, and by the time wrestlers reach their mid-30s, it’s inevitable that the handwriting is on the wall. Therefore, retirement speculation will only increase for both of them.

After winning his first two matches at the ongoing Spring Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Hakuho pulled out of the 15-day meet.

The reason?

Hakuho underwent surgery on his right knee for a damaged patella on Friday, March 19. 

Stablemaster Miyagino nevertheless said Hakuho is plotting his comeback, which would likely occur after a few months.

“He was told [by a doctor] that he couldn’t wrestle in his current condition. He said he will make his final decision at the Nagoya tournament [in July],” Miyagino was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Will Hakuho, who also had endoscopic surgery on his right knee in August 2020, once again be able to handle 15 straight days of intense physical competition?

Recent history suggests otherwise.

Hakuho has missed all or part of the previous six grand sumo tournaments.

He extended his all-time record to 44 Emperor’s Cups by winning the 2020 Spring Basho last March, going 13-2 and completing a tourney for the last time as of this writing.

Kakuryu withdrew from the Spring Basho on March 11, citing a left leg injury.

He has pulled out of five consecutive tournaments. Lower back and elbow ailments have been cited as factors in previous withdrawals.

Both men are highly recognizable figures in their chosen profession, and their physical decline is something we’ve observed with our own eyes.

So what does the immediate future hold for both men?

Stay tuned.

But both are now naturalized Japanese, meaning they have fulfilled one of the prerequisite requirements established by the Japan Sumo Association to become sumo elders.

Myogiryu: The Last Undefeated Wrestler in Spring Basho

Entering the sixth day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, Myogiryu was the solo leader.

Then, on Friday, March 19, the No. 4 maegashira suffered his first loss of the 15-day meet, falling to No. 2 maegashira Hokutofuji.

As a result, the title chase again became a wide-open field, with six grapplers, including sekiwake Terunofuji and Asanoyama, taking 5-1 records into the final day of the Spring Basho’s opening week at Ryogoku Kokugikan in the nation’s capital.

Myogiryu had improved to 5-0 by beating No. 6 Ichinojo on the previous day.

But on Saturday, March 20, the field tightened up at the top, with only Terunofuji, komusubi Takayasu, and No. 9 Chiyonokuni improving to 6-1.

Tokyo Olympics

Overseas Spectators Barred from Olympics

As expected, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has announced that overseas spectators will not be permitted to attend the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

An announcement was made on Saturday, March 21 following a meeting between Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa on the same day.

Citing COVID-19 concerns amidst the pandemic, which has caused nearly 2.7 million deaths globally, Hashimoto emphasized caution as the chief factor behind the decision.

“In order to make sure that we do not create a burden on the medical system [in Japan] we had to make [this decision],” Hashimoto said.

Bach echoed Hashimoto’s sentiments.

“Setting priorities like safety also means that you have to respect these priorities and that means you will have and we will have to take difficult decisions,” Bach said in the run-up to the meeting.

More than 4 million tickets for the Olympics have been sold in Japan, and around 600,000 tickets for overseas customers have been sold. Overseas customers will receive refunds for tickets, according to local organizers.

While health concerns lead to difficult decisions, one wonders if Tokyo 2020 leaders and the IOC, among others, could have formulated a plan that permitted ticket holders who can provide proof that they have had two COVID-19 vaccine shots to enter Japan for the Olympics.

In other words, why should vaccinated ticket holders not be allowed to attend Olympic events?


RELATED COVERAGE:
[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Barring Overseas Spectators from Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a Very Likely Possibility


Baseball

Twins’ Maeda Will Be Team’s Opening Day Starter

Veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda was an Opening Day starter five times during his eight seasons with NPB’s Hiroshima Carp. The last time he started a season-opening game was in 2015, his final season with the Carp.

A well-established MLB player, Maeda will experience the nerves and excitement associated with the big Opening Day assignment once again this year. Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli recently informed Maeda that he’ll start the opener on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 1.

How did Maeda, the American League Cy Young Award runner-up in 2020, react to the news?

“I’m so happy that I may be floating a little bit,” Maeda was quoted as saying by the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sunday, March 14.

Coming off a 6-1 season with a 2.70 ERA and 80 strikeouts and 10 walks in 66 2/3 innings, Maeda has looked sharp this spring for the Twins.

Through March 14, he had worked nine innings without yielding a run while allowing just one hit and recording 12 strikeouts.

Baldelli enjoyed watching Maeda react to the news of his high-profile upcoming start.

“He did have a very nice smile on his face. I think he was very pleased with hearing that news,” Baldelli said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I was very happy to give him that news, and I was very happy for him, because … the year he had last year was magnificent, one of the best years I’ve been able to witness up close and firsthand in this game.”

Gymnastics

Kiyoko Ono, 1964 Olympic Bronze Medalist, Dies at 85

Kiyoko Ono, an Olympic bronze medal-earning gymnast and a 21-year Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Councillors, died of complications from COVID-19 on March 13. She was 85.

The LDP and the International Gymnastics Federation announced her death on Thursday, March 18.

Born in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Ono competed at the 1960 Rome Olympics and at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games. In between, Ono gave birth to her first two children.

Ono received a bronze medal for the women’s all-around team event in October 1964. (That team bronze remains the only medal Japanese women have collected in Olympic gymnastics.)

Her husband, gymnastics great Takashi Ono, now 89, is one of Japan’s all-time Olympic greats. He competed in four Olympiads between 1952 and 1964 and collected 14 medals (five golds, four silvers and four bronze).

After retiring from competition, Ono served in Japan’s Upper House from 1986-2007. She became the first female head of the National Public Safety Commission and the first woman to serve as vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

To honor her lifetime involvement in sports and the Olympic Movement, the IOC gave Ono the Olympic Order in 2016.

Tennis

Osaka Wins February’s Hickok Belt Award

Naomi Osaka captured her second Australian Open women’s singles title on February 20.

In recognition of her fourth career Grand Slam title, Osaka was chosen as February’s Hickok Belt Award winner by a panel of National Sports Media Association voters.

An announcement was made on Wednesday, March 17.

The Hickok Belt Award honors “the best of the best” in pro sports. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the January winner.

The other February finalists included NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, tennis great Novak Djokovic, NHL players Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mitch Marner, golfer Max Home, bobsled teammates Kaillie Humphries and Lolo Jones, skier Katharina Liensberger and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell.

In its heyday, the Hickok Belt Award was presented from 1950-76. Past winners include Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Jim Brown and Arnold Palmer. The Hickok Manufacturing Company of Rochester, New York, established the award, and the annual award winner was revealed at the Rochester Press Radio Club’s annual Day of Champions children’s charity dinner.

The award was revived in 2012.

Snowboarding

Teenager Totsuka Nabs First Halfpipe World Title

Yuto Totsuka captured the men’s halfpipe world title at the FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships in Aspen, Colorado, on Saturday, March 13.

Fueled by a stellar effort on his last attempt, the 19-year-old Yokohama native amassed 96.75 points. Australia’s Scotty James, who won the event at the three previous world championships, placed second (90.5 points) and Jan Scherrer of Switzerland was third (87.5).

It was Totsuka’s third consecutive win on the global snowboarding circuit this season.

“After coming second last time [in the men’s halfpipe at worlds], I’m happy to win the championship. I’ve won all my competitions so far this season, so if I can keep this up, I think I can do well at the Beijing Winter Olympics,” Totsuka told reporters.



In related news, Miyabi Onitsuka earned the bronze medal in the women’s snowboard big air event at the world championships on Tuesday, March 16.

Canadian Laurie Blouin nabbed the big air event crown with 177.75 points, with New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott finishing a point behind. Onitsuka had 174.75 points.

Previously, Onitsuka claimed the slopestyle world title in 2015 and a bronze in the same event at worlds in 2017.

Boxing

Kyoguchi Defends WBA Light Flyweight Title

Fighting for the first time since October 2019, Hiroto Kyogocuhi enjoyed a successful return to the ring on Saturday, March 13 in Dallas.

The WBA light flyweight super champion earned a fifth-round technical knockout victory over Mexico’s Axel Aragon Vega and defended his world title for the third time.

Kyoguchi, an Osaka Prefecture native, improved to 15-0 (10 knockouts).

Vega (14-4-1) suffered a hand injury after hitting Kyoguchi in the head with a right hook. This prompted the referee to end the bout at 1:32 of the fifth round.

“I was expected to provide a different type of KO. I wanted to put myself on show a bit more,” Kyoguchi told reporters after the fight.

Horse Racing

Japanese Dominate Richest Jockeys List

Who are the world’s highest-earning jockeys?

The website Online Betting Guide compiles such information based on data recorded by Equibase (for U.S.-based jockeys), Umanity (Japan) and Racing Post (Britain and Ireland).

Among the top 10 of active jockeys around the world, eight are Japanese.

Yutaka Take tops the list with estimated career earnings of $796,100,000 USD and 4,249 wins, followed by Norihiro Yokoyama ($560,636,800 and 2,840 race victories), Masayoshi Ebina ($479,423,200 and 2,538), Yuichi Fukunaga ($479,409,900 and 2,410) and John R. Velazquez of Puerto Rico ($430,647,646 and 6,258).

Exact jockey earnings are not known, however. Riders receive different percentages of prize money around the world.

The full list is posted here.

Soccer

Morimoto Arrested Over Hit-And-Run in Paraguay

Striker Takayuki Morimoto, who made his pro debut in 2004, was arrested on Tuesday, March 16 in Asuncion, Paraguay, where he fled the scene of an accident after his automobile struck a motorcycle.

The 32-year-old Sportivo Luqueno forward was released on bail, according to published reports.

Morimoto joined the Paraguayan team in February. The well-traveled Kawasaki native was the 2004 J. League Rookie of the Year while playing for Tokyo Verdy.

Lots of Ground to Cover

Which J. League first-division player has covered the most ground in a single game so far this season?

Midfielder Rikiya Uehara of Vegalta Sendai.

According to data posted on the league website (through games of March 17), Uehara sprinted, jogged and walked 13.30 km (8.26 miles) in Vegalta’s 5-0 road loss to Sagan Tosu at Ekimae Real Estate Stadium. 

Basketball

LivOn Global, Rakuten Team Up to Support Baba

Rakuten, Inc. and LivOn Global, an NBA-licensed agency, have formed a strategic partnership to oversee rising basketball star Yudai Baba’s career and related business opportunities, such as brand endorsements, merchandising and content creation.

The partnership, announced by Rakuten on Tuesday, March 16, is set up to strengthen Baba’s name recognition and provide additional promotional opportunities for him.

Baba, a former Alvark Tokyo and Texas Legends (NBA G League) player, is now with the Australian National Basketball League’s Melbourne United.

LivOn Global CEO Anita Smith said, “We believe Rakuten is the perfect partner for us to work with to build Baba’s brand and support his athletic career. In many ways Baba’s path mirrors Rakuten’s journey from a home-grown Japanese innovator to becoming an internationally recognized name.”

Baba said he believes the new partnership is a good fit.

“I am pleased to be working with Rakuten, a company that’s dedicated to developing the sport of basketball in Japan and around the world,” the 25-year-old Toyama native commented. “I am grateful to have Rakuten’s support as I chase my dream to become an NBA player. I’ll do my best to invigorate Japanese basketball and to inspire the younger generations.”

In 14 games (through Friday, March 19), Baba is averaging nearly 8.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists.

Quotes of the Week

“I’ve been playing well the last two weeks. My goal is to come back to top 10, top five hopefully. I know it’s going to be a long way back, because everyone is playing well. I have to step up a little more but I’ve been enjoying the challenge these couple of weeks.”

―World No. 41 men’s tennis player Kei Nishikori, speaking to reports on March 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, on his chief goals at this stage of his career. Nishikori reached a career-best No. 4 in the world rankings in March 2015.

“To be honest, when you see how difficult traveling is at the moment, what loops they have to jump through when coming back to be available for us again, this is for me a little bit nonsense. We are not allowed to leave the country for any reason, and then they are flying all over the world in such a pandemic, I cannot see a reason why you should do this.”

―Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl on Takumi Minamino, who is on loan from English Premier League rival Liverpool, and other overseas-based players being called up by the Japan men’s national team for a March 25 international friendly against South Korea and a March 30 match against Mongolia in Chiba.

“Happy to report that I am back home and continuing my recovery. I am so grateful for the outpouring of support and encouragement that I have received over the past few weeks.”

―Golf legend Tiger Woods tweeted on March 16.



Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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