Yokozuna Hakuho has withdrawn from the 3rd day of Haru Basho 2021 after reaggravating a right knee injury in his day 2 match against Takarafuji. With his eye on a record extending 45th Emperor’s Cup, the serial record breaker returned from four consecutive basho absences. Following closely behind his colleague Yokozuna Kakuryu, who pulled out for his 5th straight time just before the tournament started, Hakuho announced his 5th straight kyujo, citing damaged cartilage in his recently operated-on right knee. Refusing to comment on his awkward shuffle and incomplete sonkyo squat after the day 2 win, Hakuho left the talking to Stablemaster Miyagino, who revealed that Hakuho has finally set a (more or less) definite retirement date.
Since last year’s Haru Basho, neither Hakuho nor Kakuryu have completed a 15 day tournament. Hakuho underwent knee surgery this past August, and after rehabilitation, had set his sights on a return to the dohyo before becoming infected with the coronavirus ahead of the New Year basho. Pressure on both Yokozuna to actively participate culminated in a “warning” issued by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council this past November. Try as they might, extenuating circumstances disallowed any serious intention to compete until this month. Kakuryu, of course, could not compete due to a last minute thigh injury sustained in training. And Hakuho, despite a favorable 2 win start, was left with no choice but to further agitate the council on Tuesday.
Miyagino-oyakata says Hakuho will need to undergo more surgery on his right knee this month. “We expect physical rehabilitation to take about 2 months post-op,” he said. He went on to reveal that Hakuho has made his retirement plans apparent:
“Final (decision) will be in Nagoya.”
The stated timeline comes as little surprise, as Nagoya Basho takes place during July, and a ceremonial role in the postponed (and still tentative) Tokyo Summer Olympics has been Hakuho’s career capping dream for quite some time. Had the Olympics happened normally in 2020, Hakuho may have already retired. But pushing through several years of pain and physical limitations, what’s one more year to the greatest?
Commentator Mainoumi Shuhei recently expressed (in as polite a way as he could) that it is more important to uphold the dignity of the rank of Yokozuna than to act based on one’s own feelings; essentially saying that Hakuho should retire now to honor the rank, instead of holding out to chase his personal goals. A seemingly more understanding voice came from Chairman Hakkaku. “I don’t know the details on what kind of surgery it is, but I think it’s for the purpose of continuing. I think he feels it can’t end this way,” said the former Yokozuna.
Still, PR director Shibatayama indicated that a previously canceled meeting of the YDC will need to happen soon, and a location for that to take place is in the works. Hakuho may have beaten the council to the punch with his retirement statement though, unless of course they have an earlier and more forceful date in mind.