translated by George Redlinger
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein
The Public Soken of Natsu 2007
Saturday May 5th - Kokugikan
On Saturday May 5th 2007, the traditional soken that takes place in Tokyo was held at the Kokugikan. Since Hakuho's victory in the Haru Basho, one thing was holding everyone's attention, and the soken for Natsu 2007 was no exception: the possible promotion of the Mongolian Ozeki to the supreme title of Yokozuna and the reaction of Asashoryu to this threat to his domination. In addition to the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, some 8500 spectators attended this training session, open to the public and free, to judge the condition of the rikishi.
Giving each his due, let's start with the absentees. Among them were the Ozeki Tochiazuma, in fragile health and whose future as an athlete was in danger, and the new Komusubi Toyonoshima, injured during training against Asashoryu on April 30th and constrained to rest, at least until the beginning of the Natsu Basho.
A much anticipated duel
All eyes were therefore fixed on the two Mongolian wrestlers who currently dominate sumo, the Yokozuna Asashoryu, and Hakuho, who could very soon join him among the pantheon of rikishi. Yet it was not those two who most stirred the spectators. Katsuji Ebisawa, president of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, did not mince his words: "You get the impression that they're slacking off! It's not good enough."
The duelists (Hochi)
Indeed, Asashoryu only fought nine matches and he himself recognized that it was too little: "It's true I had only a few matches, but I was totally into it!" What was lacking in quantity, the Yokozuna's participation, nevertheless, made up in quality. Indeed, the Yokozuna defeated all who went up against him without sparing his punishment.
Among his unfortunate opponents that day were the Ozeki Kaio, Chiyotaikai and Kotooshu,and the new Sekiwake Ama. With the latter and with Miyabiyama, Asashoryu provided an intense round of butsukari-zumo which drew cheers from the audience.
Asahoryu and Ama, under the eyes of the YDC (Jijipress)
Aware of the imperfect state of his conditioning ("It's true, but it's going to ramp up from here on."), the Yokozuna was nevertheless ready to rise to the challenge: "I said I was going to be a wall against Hakuho. And I can't wait to do so!"
An Ozeki under intense scrutiny
And then there was THE much anticipated confrontation with Hakuho, a preamble to the next basho. And again the Yokozuna did not submit, pulling off a victory by uwatedashinage, albeit after a match that will not go down in history. The Ozeki would gladly have continued against the Yokozuna, but it was clear the Yokozuna was in pain from his elbow: "The Yokozuna injured his elbow so we stopped."
Asashoryu takes down Hakuho (Asahi)
Besides this loss, Hakuho had eleven other matches, notably against other Ozeki, finishing with a record of 8-4, and leaving behind a sense of unfinished business. The Yokozuna hopeful was not convincing, even if he did put away Kotooshu with a powerful uwatenage. Nevertheless, he did not seem terribly bothered by the impression he was leaving. "I am going to train until the beginning of the tournament. I couldn't care less if it's in public or not." - words that were not particularly appreciated by Kitanoumi Rijicho: "Although he won the Haru Basho, what he showed today was not enough. He is trying for the rank of Yokozuna and therefore must not lose. We want to see a different kind of sumo."
Hakuho, showing mixed form (Jijipress)
A pumped-up Sekiwake
If the two heroes were disappointing, who then stirred up the large crowd? Not the three other Ozeki, Kaio, Chiyotaikai or Kotooshu, all dull as well. In contrast, Ama, the new Sekiwake from Ajigawa-beya lit up the dohyo together with Tochiozan and Homasho! Ama was among the Makuuchi wrestlers who had the most matches, 20 in all. To start, he put up a fierce fight against the Japanese hopefuls Homasho (who, despite all the hopes placed on him, is three years older than the Mongolian Sanyaku) and Kisenosato (age 20). Matches against the Ozeki and Yokozuna were next, all without losing intensity, earning him the recognition of Kitanoumi Rijicho: "We would have liked the other young rikishi to have fought their elders with as much intensity as Ama."
Asashoryu, under threat of having to share his reign, remained dominant (Sanspo)
Although a little disappointing, this soken did not prevent the anticipation of a Natsu Basho that all hoped and many predicted would be historic.
Hakuho, still able to produce a knowing wink towards the future (Hochi)