With each sumo tournament title Hakuho has racked up, the pressure to win grows. Despite the rising expectations, the Mongolian wrestler hasn't yielded as he continues to win.
Hakuho beat fellow yokozuna Harumafuji on Sunday to win the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, extending his career title total to 30. Only Taiho and Chiyonofuji, both of whom are legendary yokozuna of the Showa era (1926-89), have reached the 30-basho-win plateau.
"The pressure was harder to handle as the number of titles increased-29, and then 30," Hakuho said after winning the title in Nagoya. "But the adversity makes the sense of achievement greater."
Now the focus is on how far the 29-year-old Mongolian can extend his title run. He trails Chiyonofuji by just one, while Taiho leads the all-time list with 32.
Comparing the three yokozuna, Hakuho has mastered the dominance of lower-ranked wrestlers. When a rank-and-filer upsets a yokozuna, the triumph is referred to as a kinboshi (or golden victory).
Over their careers Taiho conceded 28 kinboshi and Chiyonofuji 29, but Hakuho so far has allowed only eight kinboshi in his eight years at the top rank. At the Nagoya tournament, he won every matchup against rank-and-filers.
His steadiness allows him to compete for the title from start to finish at almost every tournament. His remarkable consistency separates him from the other Mongolian yokozuna Harumafuji and Kakuryu.
However, there is one worrisome development for Hakuho in recent tournaments. He has shown a tendency to drop off in performance in the later stages of the 15-day tournaments. He lost to sekiwake Goeido on the 11th day, and to ozeki Kisenosato on the 13th day. In both bouts, Hakuho initially went on the offensive and took the initiative, but allowed his opponents to turn things around and win.
Could the yokozuna's problems stem from lack of stamina? Or have other wrestlers perhaps managed to close the gap between themselves and Hakuho? With Chiyonofuji, it took five tournaments for him to win his 31st title after reaching No. 30, partly because of injuries.
"The biggest concern for Hakuho is a sudden decline [after suffering a injury]," said Chiyonofuji, known now as stablemaster Kokonoe.
Yoshiko Naya, wife of the late Taiho, said he was suffering from arm soreness when he won his 30th title. "He was also beginning to think about retirement," Naya said.
It seems that Hakuho has reached maturity both physically and mentally. However, with him turning 30 next year, tournament victories don't figure to be as easy as they have been.
"I believe [yokozuna] Taiho would hope if someone were to break his record, it would be me," Hakuho said.