SUMO ABC (52) / Supporters help to cushion pride of injured yokozuna Kisenosato

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yokozuna Kisenosto, left, tries to grab Chiyoshoma before barging him out of the ring at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on May 18 in Tokyo.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterYokozuna Kisenosato pulled out of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on May 24 — the 11th day of the basho — with a 6-5 record, despite being the center of attention. It was his second basho as a yokozuna.

The reaction toward Kisenosato from the spectators was a little strange from Day 1 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

Normally, when a yokozuna loses a bout, spectators throw countless zabuton cushions from their seats at Kokugikan and other venues. However, in the first half of the tournament, only a few people tossed cushions after Kisenosato’s losses — to Yoshikaze on the first day and to Endo on the fourth day.

Amid high expectations for the yokozuna, I had braced myself for tremendous reactions from the crowd to his opening-day loss. Sitting in the press area near the dohyo, I covered my head with my hands in anticipation of a zabuton bombardment. But fewer zabuton than I had imagined were hurled from the stands. And as far as I could see, not a single cushion was thrown after his loss on the fourth day.

I suppose the restraint shown on Day 1 by spectators, who largely resisted launching their cushions toward the ring, may have been a sign of respect, due to the presence of the Crown Prince and Princess in the audience.

I also believe his come-from-behind victory on the last day of the previous tournament was so dramatic that spectators offered encouragement and compassion to Kisenosato in this tournament.

“It’s OK, as long as his injury doesn’t get worse,” some probably thought. Or “He doesn’t have to aim to win the tournament if it is too much of a burden.”

Still, you can’t say such warm reactions are something to welcome, especially in light of the adage “a sumo wrestler’s life ends when he is given compassion.”

Kisenosato faces a test to prove his ability in the next tournament. He decided to give it a shot in the Summer basho despite injury concerns, but he couldn’t make it through the 15-day tournament. Fans won’t be so forgiving if this happens again.

Yokozuna Hakuho won the Summer tournament for his 38th title, but he pulled out during the previous basho in March. So a match between Kisenosato and Hakuho has not materialized since Kisenosato rose to sumo’s highest rank to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Hakuho as a yokozuna.

What spectators are waiting for is a clash between the two yokozuna in top condition.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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