Kisenosato Retires

January 16, 2019

Longtime readers will be familiar with our 20-year addiction to the sport of sumo.  Since at least 2012, I have been following and cheering on a Japanese rikishi called Kisenosato.

As background, the highest ranks of the deeply Japanese sport of sumo have been dominated for twenty and more years by rikishi from Mongolia and eastern Europe, including the current, and possibly greatest ever, yokuzana (or Grand Champion), Hakuho. The young Kisenosato was promoted as the latest and greatest hope for a Japanese to regain the top spot.

Unfortunately, there were times in Kisenosato’s career when he just didn’t seem to focus and it took him many years to finally reach the highest ranks.  By then his body was beaten up and he has fought very little over the last eighteen months, withdrawing from several basho (tournaments) in a row through injury.

Yesterday was day four of the January basho, which Kisenosato had chosen as his comeback tournament.  He was welcomed with open arms by the Japanese crowd but, unfortunately his sumo was not good enough and he lost the first three days’ bouts.

Sumo is a sport of very strict tradition, there are rules both written and unwritten that must be followed.  Grand Champions are expected to win a very high percentage of their fights. If they do not, the weight of tradition begins to pressure them into retirement.  After his year out with injury, Kisenosato had to immediately re-establish his position in the hierarchy.  He couldn’t do it and so today he announced his immediate retirement.  It is, I think, a sad end to an unfulfilled career.

Luckily, as we have seen in this basho and the previous one, there is a batch of young Japanese rikishi who are just bursting through: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Abi and several others are capable of beating anyone on their day.  The first four days of this basho have witnessed the defeat of most of the upper level rikishi by up-and-comers: It makes for a great tournament.


The Death of Manchester United

February 6, 2018

When I was 8 years old, my parents had very little money and we lived in what today would be called a slum. We couldn’t afford magazines or anything of the sort, but we did get the Daily Mirror. The walls of my bedroom were covered in smudgy newspaper black-and-white photos of my heroes, Manchester United, and, most especially, their young superstar Duncan Edwards.

Sixty years ago today, an aeroplane carrying the team on a flight from Munich back to England crashed on take-off in the snow. Twenty people died at the scene, including ten players and trainers, and three others, including Duncan Edwards, died later from their injuries. It was a tragedy that brought England to a standstill.


Clubs didn’t have huge bank accounts in those days and the disaster almost caused the club to fold.  In the end it took manager Matt Busby (who had been seriously injured in the crash) ten years to rebuild the team and win another championship.  Being young, I didn’t have the patience to wait and I had already switched my allegiance to Chelsea by then.

Oh What A Night!

November 3, 2017

Tonight we went to see the Canadian rugby team play the Maori All Blacks at BC Place. We were wrapped up in our winter woollies with scarves and gloves and the whole bitter cold night thing.

Before the game, we went to the food hall at Costco’s for two polish sausage hot-dogs with all the trimmings plus two soft drinks (and refills) and a massive vanilla ice cream cone for $5.50.  I’ve written before about how this is the best deal in town. This was cemented in my mind when, after that satisfying snack, we headed into the stadium and saw that a single foot-long hot-dog by itself was $9.25!

Canada lost by 51 points to 9 — quite the blowout — but that wasn’t too unexpected a result, let’s be honest.  Canada kept it close in the beginning — 9 points to 10 at one stage — but then the All Blacks scored three easy tries from three Canadian mistakes and that was that. In  the second half they just piled it on; but the Canadians never gave up, kept pushing, and when they had a decent break up field the full house roared them on.

Talking about a full house, it certainly looked full and felt full, and the announced attendance was 29,840 which is  a record for a full rugby international in Canada.

It has been a long time since I saw a rugby game in the flesh — and this would have been the very first one for the ever-loving who loves everything New Zealand and so was ecstatic at the result.  Seeing the Maori’s haka live was exciting, as was the half time show of traditional Maori song and dance.

A grand night!


This Sporting Life

July 8, 2017

It is about a year since I last wrote about sports and today seems just the right time, what with so many of my favourite events taking place all at once.  It plays havoc with the sleep schedule, with European and Asian games happening throughout my night time.  Oh well, you are only retired once!

The key to staying up most of last night, for example, was the start, at 12:30am, of the deciding game in the rugby union series between the touring British & Irish Lions versus the world-champion and virtually invincible New Zealand All Blacks.

The Lions tour comprised 10 games, of which three were Tests against New Zealand. Before our team even left England, the sporting papers were suggesting we would lose all 10 games and, most especially, all three Tests. Well that didn’t happen. Of the 7 additional games, the Lions won 4 and tied another.  The All Blacks won the first test, while the Lions won the second. Which brought us to last night, the decider, with the series all tied up. It was a phenomenal game, fortunes flowing back and forth. At the end, the score was 15-15, match tied. That meant for the first time in history, the series was tied.

I guess we Lions supporters could be disappointed not to have been the first to defeat the All Blacks in New Zealand since the early 1990s. But frankly, we did so much better than any pundit had suggested that, I am sure for the All Blacks, this must feel like a defeat. I stayed up and watched all the games and it was thoroughly worth it.

The game finished about 2:30 this morning. The third day of the 1st cricket Test between England and South Africa started at 3:00am — what was a boy to do?  I stayed up.

This is a new era for English cricket. The senior English Test team is now being captained for the first time by the young Joe Root. He is an adventurous player and over the last couple of years has been recognised as one of the finest batsman in the world. In the first innings two days ago, in his debut Test as captain, Root scored 190 runs and almost became the first ever player to score two double-centuries at Lords. His captaincy and leadership skills  are hardly doubted, but they were in fine display over the first couple of days of this Test.

I stayed up and watched until the “lunch” break, which was 4:00am for me. When I got back up at about 9, I watched the last hour of play, too.  By the end of the third day, England is dominant with both bat and ball.  Odds are we will win the Test and make a grand start to the cricketing summer. The era of Joe Root has begun and it looks like a winner!

By deciding to sleep at 4:00 this morning, I missed watching the first real mountain stage of the Tour de France. Luckily, I was able to watch the last 20-odd kilometres on tape. I saw the new great French hope Lilian Calmejean win on an individual breakaway, fighting leg cramps through the final mile or so. It was a brave ride and gives France two victories in the first 8 days of the Tour. My favourite sprinter, the exuberant Peter Sagan, got himself disqualified on day three when he appeared to cause a major and dangerous crash of Mark Cavendish at the stage’s finish line. That’s a bit of a disappointment; and my overall favourite for the yellow jersey, Alberto Contador, lost time on the first stage time trial which ran in torrential rain. But I expect him to move up in the mountains now we are there.

Also interesting is the fact that there are three Brits in the top 10 after stage 8: Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Simon Yates. The Brits have been winning the race over the recent past (Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome twice), but having three riders so high in the Tour shows some well-earned depth.

With all this going on, I have hardly had time to follow Andy Murray and Milos Roanic at Wimbledon.  They both seem to be still playing, so that’s good.

Finally, to throw another wrench into the schedule, the July sumo basho starts tonight at midnight. These days, we tend to watch the bouts on YouTube the following morning, so at least we can sleep almost normally for the 15 days’ tournament. There are a bunch of young rikishi moving up in the ranks and it is interesting to watch them assault the highest ranks of the sport. This basho will see 27-year old Takayasu begin as the newest ozeki, the sport’s second highest rank. He, like Kisenasato recently promoted to the highest rank of yokozuna, are Japanese who are challenging the two decade long reign of the Mongolians at the peak.

That’s enough of all that. It is a full and glorious sporting life right now.

Kisenasato Wins — At Last!

January 21, 2017

kisenasatoThe 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.

Reforming Pro Tennis

September 18, 2016

Pro tennis is very popular, with major tournaments selling out and prize money going through the roof; but the Grand Slam tournaments could be made much more exciting and TV-friendly and thus further increase its marketability. The following are thoughts as I watched the US Open this year.


For example, on the men’s side especially, the matches often go well past the three hour mark which makes it difficult for most people to watch an entire game (real life’s necessities intrude for most of us).  The US Open this year moved toward a partial solution by making the fifth set conclude with a tie-breaker if required.  However the other three Slams still have the fifth set as an endless duel until one side is two games ahead (in the third round at Wimbledon this year, Tsongas beat Isner with 19 games to 17 in the fifth).  The US Open style of tie-breakers on every set should become standard.

I also think we need to get rid of the let call on serves if the ball still lands in the proper court. Seems a small thing, but there tend to be quite a few of these in each match and it takes up unproductive time.

Finally, while anti-female gender-based wage differentials are a serious and pernicious issue in most industries, the opposite is the case in pro tennis. The prize money is the same for both sexes, but men work 40% more to get the same money. For example, in this year’s US Open, women winning in the first and second rounds took an average of 92 minutes per match, at a rate (with prize money of $43,313) of $469.56 per minute of play.  Under the same conditions and same level of prize money, the men worked an average of 151 minutes per match at $273.43 per minute of play.(1)  This is as wrong as any other discrimination and needs to change.

One obvious answer is to pay the women 60% of the men’s prize money because they only work at 60% of the men’s level. But that’s a dumb idea and goes against years of effort by the female players.  A better idea — and one that works with the other issues I mentioned above — is to reduce the men’s game to best of three sets, same as women. This will, on average, equalize the prize money AND shorten half the games in each tournament.

Now, I don’t really follow tennis; I generally only watch the four Slams. I am certainly no expert. But the ideas above seem like common sense.


(1) the discrepancy gets even worse as the tournament progresses. However the numbers of players involved becomes too small to make a reasonable statistical calculation.

This Sporting Life

September 2, 2016

September is full of pleasures for me — special birthdays, cooler weather, stuff — and the start of the European rugby union season is one of them.

I watched the opening game today, with Gloucester hosting Leicester Tigers. I don’t support either team and so was cheering on Gloucester as being more West Country than Leicester. I was happy therefore that Gloucester had a comfortable 31-7 lead soon after half time.


Image: David Rogers/Getty Images

However, Leicester were having none of that and scored a spectacular 31-38 win with the final play of the game. Here’s a real report of the game.

This was northern hemisphere rugby at its most enjoyable. I thought the handling skills of both teams were phenomenal, especially so early in the season. This augers well for the winter ahead!