SUMO ABC (48) / Terunofuji misses a chance because of fear and doubt

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ozeki Terunofuji, right, stands after slapping down Kotoshogiku to defeat the sekiwake at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on March 25.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer At the recently completed Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka, new yokozuna Kisenosato lifted the Emperor’s Cup for a second consecutive tourney after emerging victorious in a championship playoff.

One question lingered: How did ozeki Terunofuji, who went into the final day of the tournament as the sole leader, let a golden opportunity to win the title get away by losing twice to Kisenosato, first in their final bout of the tournament, to leave them with identical records, and then again in the playoff?

For the first time in a while, Terunofuji went into a tournament in top condition. Back in September 2015 in his second tournament as an ozeki, he suffered a right knee injury when he was flattened by Kisenosato on the 13th day of the Autumn basho. Since then, he had been ineffective in planting his feet in the ring, and repeated a cycle of winning and losing records, often gaining just enough wins to keep his rank. The Spring tournament marked the fourth time in his 11 as an ozeki that he was in kadoban status, meaning he needed more wins than losses to hold onto his rank after posting a losing record in the previous basho.

The Mongolian, however, regained his powerful style of sumo in the ring and went into the final day with an impressive 13-1 record, his lone loss coming to Takayasu on the sixth day. On top of that, Kisenosato had suffered a left arm injury in a loss two days earlier to yokozuna Harumafuji, leaving the ozeki as the prohibitive favorite.

Such favorable conditions, ironically, might have led to Terunofuji’s downfall. Kisenosato was apparently tentative because he was unsure what moves the injured yokozuna would make at the jump-off. He himself had used a sidestep at the jump-off to beat sekiwake Kotoshogiku on the 14th day — a maneuver that was roundly booed by the spectators. For Kotoshogiku, that bout held particular importance, as a loss ensured he could not reach the 10 wins he needed to regain the ozeki rank he lost in the previous tournament. That was immaterial to Terunofuji, who normally employs any means to win, including those deemed below the dignity of such a high rank as ozeki.

However, against Kisenosato, obsessing about the yokozuna’s tactics and wondering what tricks he might pull, he fell victim to his own doubts.

If Terunofuji had attacked head-on with all his might, it is doubtful he would have lost twice in a row, regardless of what surprise or tricky move Kisenosato tried to use on him. Fear and doubt made him passive. I cannot help but think that his defeat was due to a lack of mental toughness.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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