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Monday, July 24, 2000

DAY 15

Musashimaru spoils Akebono's last day

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Musashimaru muscled out Akebono on the final day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday to saddle his fellow yokozuna with a second straight loss, thus taking some of the luster off Akebono's first championship in three years.

Akebono, who had secured the championship on Friday, finished the 15-day tourney at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium with a 13-2 mark while Musashimaru's victory lifted the burly yokozuna to his 10th win.

Sekiwake Kaio, meanwhile, posted his 11th win to virtually assure himself of promotion to ozeki on the final day of the tourney.

At the same time, sekiwake Tochiazuma served notice of his own ozeki aspirations by upending ozeki Dejima for a 12-3 record and runnerup recognition.

In Sunday's finale, Musashimaru locked onto Akebono's sash at the face-off, forcing a stalemate at mid-ring by keeping his shoulder buried low into the Nagoya champion's midsection.

When Akebono attempted to force his Samoan-born rival upright by reaching for the back of the belt, Musashimaru charged forward and with a final shove drove the 230-kg behemoth over the straw bales.

Akebono, however, refused to let the defeat dampen his championship spirits. "I'm absolutely thrilled, I can't really put how I feel into words," he beamed in the post-tourney interview.

"There were times when I thought about quitting sumo," he continued, referring to the injuries that forced him out of three tourneys in a row. "But, I also knew that if I just hung in there my ship would roll in someday."

Sekiwake Kaio (11-4), winner of the summer tourney in May, blasted out No. 4 maegashira Wakanoyama (7-8) with two powerful shoves to finish the 15-day tourney with his fifth straight win that virtually assured him promotion to ozeki.

Kaio also picked up his 10th outstanding performance award after defeating two yokozuna and three ozeki over the course of the tourney.

Officials of the Japan Sumo Association, meanwhile, are scheduled to meet later Sunday to consider Kaio's promotion to sumo's second highest rank of ozeki.

In other key bouts, ozeki Dejima fell to his fifth defeat as Tochiazuma (12-3) refused to budge following the face-off, finally bundling last year's champion in Nagoya out of the ring.

Newly-promoted ozeki Miyabiyama closed on 6-9 in Sunday's penultimate bout, dishing out a devastating series of slaps before pulling down fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai (11-4).

Ozeki Musoyama's tournament, on the other hand, hit rock bottom as he fell to his 11th defeat at the hands of fourth-ranked maegashira Oginishiki (7-8).

Musoyama, still plagued with a hip injury that forced him out of the entire basho in May, needed eight wins in Nagoya to hold onto his ozeki status, but will now be demoted to sekiwake. Ten or more wins in September, however, will restore him to the ozeki ranks.

In the lower ranks, American No. 13 maegashira Sentoryu, who secured promotion on Saturday with his eighth win, finished at 8-7 after being twisted down by second-ranked maegashira Toki (6-9).

Mongolia's seventh-ranked maegashira Kyokutenho closed at 9-6, as he was forced out by top-ranked maegashira Akinoshima (8-7), while compatriot Kyokushuzan finished up at 5-10, winning his final bout by throwing out No. 6 maegashira Kaiho (7-8).

Kaio to be promoted

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Perennial bridesmaid Kaio virtually assured himself the ozeki promotion he has coveted for so long on Sunday, when he secured his 11th win on the final day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament.

The 28-year-old Tomozuna stable sekiwake, who won his first Emperor's Cup in May, blasted out No. 4 maegashira Wakanoyama to finish the 15-day meet on 11-4 and post a total of 33 wins over three straight tournaments, the minimum required for promotion to ozeki.

Japan Sumo Association (JSA) Chairman Tokitsukaze has agreed to hold an executive board meeting to discuss Kaio's elevation to the sport's second highest rank. No wrestler has been ever been denied promotion following a JSA executive board meeting.

A formal announcement by the JSA is expected on Wednesday, when officials meet for preliminary discussions on the rankings for the autumn tourney in Tokyo.

"I haven't given any thought to becoming ozeki -- I just focused on doing my own brand of sumo. I've realized that if I just keep winning, my fans will be happy, which is important," said Kaio, who also received his 10th Outstanding Performance Award in Nagoya.

Widespread criticism of the JSA decision to promote Miyabiyama to ozeki following the summer tourney was justified Sunday as the young Musashigawa stable wrestler finished with a 6-9 record in his ozeki debut.

However, the JSA pointed out that Kaio is a veteran of 21 tournaments as a sekiwake and was making his seventh assault at the ozeki rank at the Nagoya tourney.

"Kaio used to have his ups and downs, but since the last tournament he's a changed man. We can see his newfound strength and self belief," Tokitsukaze said.

Kaio, a native of Fukuoka, made his pro debut in 1988 and will have taken 44 tournaments in sumo's elite makuuchi division to reach ozeki.

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