The historical significance of a sporting winning streak can sometimes be gauged by the extent of the media frenzy that heralds its end.
Yokozuna Futabayama (1912-1968) was unbeaten for about four years, as he rose from the ranks of the maegashira to become yokozuna.
When his winning streak of 69 consecutive bouts ended, newspapers published extras. The live NHK radio broadcast of the bout he lost began by referring to the tradition of celebrating someone's 70th birthday.
"Since ancient times, it has been rare for people to reach 70," NHK announcer Nobukata Wada (1912-1952) said.
Wada's legendary broadcast continued: "Futabayama lost, Futabayama lost. Today, Jan. 15, 1939, he rose rapidly in power like the rising sun, having won 69 consecutive bouts. Futabayama, who made rapid advances aiming at 70 straight wins, succumbed to Akinoumi, a rising wrestler of the Dewa family."
Excited spectators at the Kokugikan sumo venue threw all sorts of objects, including smoking accessories and mikan oranges, onto the dohyo. Wada covered his head with a cushion and continued the broadcast.
Major League Baseball player Ichiro Suzuki's record of 10 straight 200-hit seasons has ended. It will be greeted more quietly and solemnly than Futabayama's loss. In the season's last game, the Seattle Mariners' player needed 16 more hits to extend his 200-hit season streak to 11. That proved impossible.
Ichiro's .300-plus batting average, which he had maintained since 1994, when he was playing for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, also ended. But he is an exceptionally talented batter. Next month, he will turn 38. We must wait for him to personally tell us about his physical condition and how it has changed since last season.
His 200-hit seasons and .300 batting average were the result of hard work but also a fierce concentration on each pitch. They are like a pointillist work of art. He keeps swinging his bat, accumulating hits season after season. I wish to pay homage to his achievements rather than mourn the end to his streak. His records, including the 262 hits he notched up in 2004, are unlikely to be broken for some time.
Last year, yokozuna Hakuho challenged Futabayama's record and established the second-longest winning streak with 63. The excitement is still fresh in our minds. The records set by Ichiro are brand-new, freshly painted walls for aspiring players to challenge.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 29
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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