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Sunday, Jan. 21, 2001

DAY 14

Maru keeps title hopes alive

As snow fell in Tokyo on Saturday, yokozuna Takanohana was forced to put his title celebrations on ice despite boosting his record to a perfect 14-0 with one day left in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Takanohana, chasing his first Emperor's Cup since autumn 1998, demolished ozeki Dejima in the day's final bout, but not before rival grand champion Musashimaru had kept his championship hopes alive by marching out ozeki Kaio to notch his 13th win.

Again displaying textbook lower-body technique, Takanohana quickly locked onto the belt of struggling Dejima, who stepped back over the straw bails as the Fat Lady was still clearing her throat and left the ring with a losing 6-8 record.

In the day's penultimate matchup, a sellout crowd at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, which included Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, was denied a chance to see Takanohana wrap up his 21st title as Musashimaru easily defused the challenge of 10-4 Kaio.

Bouncing back from Friday's loss to sekiwake Wakanosato, Musashimaru intelligently wrapped up Kaio, who soon ran out of space at the edge of the ring with his left arm pointing skyward courtesy of a Pacific Island bear hug. Ozeki Miyabiyama bundled over fifth-ranked maegashira Tamakasuga (6-8) to even his record at 7-7, but again looked out of his depth at sumo's second-highest rank as he was pushed to the brink by his more agile opponent.

It was better late than never for ozeki Musoyama, who twisted down Wakanosato (9-5) to collect his eighth win, while Tochinonada protected his komusubi rank by bulldozing out No. 4 maegashira Tochiazuma (9-5) to improve to 8-6 in the 15-day meet.

Former ozeki Takanonami will slip further down the rankings at the spring tourney in Osaka as the top-ranked maegashira lost to sixth-ranked Chiyotenzan (8-6) for the first time in nine meetings and slipped to 6-8.

Mongolian No. 8 maegashira Kyokutenho made it double digits in wins as he forced out third-ranked Wakanoyama (8-6), while No. 12 maegashira Asashoryu blasted out seventh-ranked Higonoumi (7-7) to improve to 9-5 in his debut in sumo's "Premier League."

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