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Sumo: Terunofuji returns, joins perfect Summer tourney start for ozeki

Terunofuji (top) defeats Meisei on the first day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on May 9, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Terunofuji marked his return to sumo's second-highest rank after a 20-meet absence with a solid win as he and his three fellow ozeki opened the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament with victories on Sunday.

    The 29-year-old, who sealed his re-promotion by winning the March's Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, overpowered aggressive No. 2 maegashira Meisei, keeping him in check before ending the bout with his trademark arm barring force out.

    The tournament is starting behind closed doors at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. Japan's capital is one of the areas currently under a COVID-19 state of emergency through the end of this month.

    Terunofuji became the first wrestler in history to regain his ozeki status after dropping as low as the fifth-tier jonidan division in March 2019 following a host of health problems, including injuries requiring surgery on both knees.

    Ozeki Takakeisho also opened the 15-day meet in fine fashion, giving No. 1 Wakatakakage no chance in a lopsided push-out win, but the other two ozeki pulled off less convincing victories.

    Shodai, a demotion-threatened "kadoban ozeki" after a losing record in March, found himself pushed to the edge of the raised ring but pulled off a timely thrust down against No. 1 Hokutofuji. Shodai needs eight wins this time to avoid relegation to the next lower rank of sekiwake.

    Asanoyama was pushed to the brink by January champion Daieisho after the komusubi reeled off a series powerful shoves. But Asanoyama dodged his pursuer at the ring's edge, got behind him and propelled him out.

    Sekiwake Takayasu, s former ozeki who briefly held a sole lead in March before finishing at 10-5, was unperturbed by tricky Tobizaru as he thrust the No. 2 maegshira out.

    The other sekiwake, Takanosho, pushed out No. 3 Chiyonokuni, while komusubi Mitakeumi shoved out No. 4 Kiribayama.

    Hakuho, the sport's only active yokozuna, is skipping this meet after having knee surgery in March. After missing all or part of six straight grand tournaments, the Mongolian-born grand champion with a record 44 championships will likely be fighting with his career on the line at the next grand tournament in July.

    No. 3 Bulgarian Aoiyama, a title contender in March, is out with injury as is No. 15 Midorifuji. No. 14 Ryuden will sit out the meet after he was found to have violated the Japan Sumo Association's COVID-19 guidelines.

    This will be the second 15-day meet to open without spectators following last year's Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March in Osaka, held entirely behind closed doors due to the virus.

    The Summer meet -- canceled last year -- will be held without spectators for the first three days before allowing up to 5,000 fans inside the venue from the fourth day onward.

    This year's first two tournaments, in January and March, were also held at Ryogoku Kokugikan under a state of emergency, but with admission capped at 5,000 spectators per day in accordance with government guidelines.

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