The ever-loving and I have watched every sumo tournament since about 2000. A couple of years after we started watching, a young Japanese rikiski turned pro; this was Kisenasato. We have watched his rise as he moved swiftly though the ranks and was promoted to ozeki — the sport’s second highest rank — by January 2012.
This was an important step because the highest ranks of sumo — including the highest rank of yokozuna — had been dominated by Mongolian rikishi for almost two decades. The three current yokozuna are all Mongolians, and the last Japanese-born yokozuna retired in 2003.
Kisenasato has been the “great white hope” of Japanese sumo for many years now but, until today, he always fell a disappointing one bout or two below what what was needed to win at least one of the six-a-year tournaments (bashos). It is imperative that at least one basho victory– and usually two — are required before a rikishi can be promoted to yokozuna. For this New Year basho, Kisenasato came with a determination we don’t always see from him. He is at 13 wins and 1 loss, with just one bout left. His nearest competitor has three loses, so he cannot be caught.
The last Japanese to win a basho, a year ago — and the first at that point for ten years — has already slipped out of the highest ranks by his failure to maintain the standard required. With this win, Kisenasato has strengthened his position as crown prince, and we can only hope that he can repeat the performance and grab the long-wished-for promotion.