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Published:November 29th, 2009 22:43 EST

Hakuho Dominates Sumo 2009

By Geoff Dean

 Hakuho, the sumo grand champion, faced a heated challenge from fellow grand champion and fellow Mongolian national, Asashoryu, in the final sumo bout of 2009. There was back and forth in this "epic battle" (as the Japan Times put it) but it ended the way 85 other bouts did for Hakuho in 2009. With Hakuho victorious.

 Hakuho ended the year with a record 86 wins out of 90 possible, passing the previously considered untouchable mark set by Asashoryu of 84 wins, several years back. With six fifteen match tournaments spread out over the year, he won two with perfect records, won another at 14-1 and in the remaining three, forced a playoff. While he lost those playoffs, he established a constant. Each tournament would end with Hakuho in the thick of it, having a chance to win it on the final day. Furthermore, he won his bout on the final day all six times (playoff bout not counted). Since each such final bout was a showdown with fellow grand champion and closest rival, Asashoryu, he further established his dominance of the sumo world. Even more amazing, this came in a sport which has no off season. As soon as a tournament finishes, one begins training for the next. With no rest, no off time, he stayed fresh and gained strength as the year unfolded.

 When asked about setting a record, he responded that that had always mattered more to the media than to him. He offered up the sumo "party line" that he was only interested in each win, one at a time. Still, he couldn`t help but smile a little (for a sumo wrestler, this is tantamount to a wild celebration). After all, everyone was gunning for him from January on and only four got him all year. This is a statistic worthy of Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan at their prime.

 For me, more than the records, more than the championships, I was impressed by the way he wrestled. The fluidity of his sumo, so far removed from the caricature of sumo often seen in the West, reminded viewers that sumo is indeed a martial art, as much as judo, tai chi, karate, and others. Sumo, when done well, is a thing of true aesthetic beauty. His overarm throw, somewhat reminscent of a judo move,  in the final bout of 2009, was a fitting close out to a year for a man who showed just how glorious sumo can be.

 Summing up the year and expressing his goal for the next, Hakuho just gave one word. "Gambaru" which means "try harder" or "do one`s best" or "make an strenuous effort". Watch out everyone else!

 The Japanese color commentator ended the final sumo broadcast of 2009 with words of praise for Hakuho and a lament for the lack of pretenders to his throne (especially Japanese ones). 2009 was another year without a tournament win for a Japanese wrestler. All six tournanment titles in fact were taken by Mongolians. I find it hard to imagine that 2010 will be much different.