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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2001

Takanohana gets East slot

New Year champion Takanohana will line up in the prestigious East yokozuna spot for next month's Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) announced Monday when it released its rankings for the March 11-25 meet.

Away from the title race, however, the spotlight will focus on the plight of ozeki Dejima, who will be battling to escape demotion after a nightmare start to the new millennium, and Chiyotaikai, hoping to bounce back from an ankle injury that knocked him out of the New Year tourney.

A 7-8 record last time out means Dejima must post at least eight wins at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium to hold onto his rank as he faces demotion in his 10th tournament since being promoted to sumo's second-highest rank.

Chiyotaikai, who suffered ligament and bone damage to his right ankle in January, will be able to sit out the entire Osaka tourney and will not lose his rank. He would, however, face demotion at the summer meeting in May.

The retirement last month of Hawaiian-born yokozuna Akebono leaves only Takanohana and Musashimaru at the top of the tree and both will be overwhelming favorites to push each other to the wire again after their championship playoff last month.

Both men finished with a 14-1 record in the New Year tourney after Musashimaru squashed Takanohana in their final-day regulation bout to force a playoff.

The playoff, however, was won in convincing fashion by Takanohana, who secured his first Emperor's Cup since autumn 1998 and 21st overall.

Of the five ozeki wrestlers, only Kaio emerged with any credit, with a 10-5 record, last time out and will line up at the head of the East side in Osaka.

Tochinonada tops the list of high-flyers below ozeki after the JSA promoted the Kasugano stable wrestler to sekiwake for the first time in his five-year pro career following a 9-6 record as a komusubi in Tokyo. Wakanosato keeps his sekiwake rank after a 10-5 showing.

One notch below, Tochiazuma returns to "sanyaku" -- the three ranks between yokozuna and the maegashira-class wrestlers -- as the East komusubi after the former ozeki candidate went 10-5 in the New Year as a No. 4 maegashira.

Wakanoyama, meanwhile, will make his komusubi debut in Osaka after grinding out nine wins last month as a No. 3 maegashira.

In the maegashira ranks, all three of the elite makuuchi division's Mongolian wrestlers earned promotions, Kyokutenho jumping seven places to No. 1 maegashira.

Rising star Asashoryu, who went 9-6 in his makuuchi debut, was bumped up six notches to No. 6 maegashira, while Kyokushuzan rose five slots to No. 5 after barely scraping together an 8-7 record last time out.

Meanwhile, the JSA promoted no fewer than five wrestlers from the second-tier juryo division to sumo's top division, including 38-year-old crowd favorite Terao, who will make his makuuchi return after going 8-7 in Tokyo.

Headed the other direction, Toki fell out of the makuuchi division after missing the entire New Year tourney following a fatal car accident in December that left an Osaka woman dead.

Although the JSA cleared Toki to wrestle in the spring tournament, he was ranked at juryo No. 4, leaving the Takasago stable without a top division wrestler for the first time since December 1877.

Sumo rankings for Spring Basho
Takanohana (Y, 14-1) Yokozuna Musashimaru (Y, 14-1)
Kaio (O, 10-5) Ozeki Musoyama (O, 9-6)
Miyabiyama (O, 8-7) Ozeki Dejima (O, 7-8)
Chiyotaikai (O, 2-2-11) Ozeki
Wakanosato (S, 10-5) Sekiwake Tochinonada (K, 9-6)
Tochiazuma (M4, 10-5) Komusubi Wakanoyama (M3, 9-6)
Kyokutenho (M8, 10-5) M.1 Kotoryu (M7, 9-6)
Chiyotenzan (M6, 8-7) 2 Hayateumi (M2, 0-0-15)
Takanonami (M1, 6-9) 3 Kotomitsuki (S, 4-11)
Tokitsuumi (M9, 8-7) 4 Takanowaka (K, 4-11)
Akinoshima (M4, 7-8) 5 Kyokushuzan (M10, 8-7)
Asashoryu (M12, 9-6) 6 Kotonowaka (M2, 5-10)
Tamakasuga (M5, 7-8) 7 Tochisakae (M1, 4-11)
Tosanoumi (M5, 6-9) 8 Higonoumi (M7, 7-8)
Kaiho (M3, 4-11) 9 Takatoriki (M12, 8-7)
Tamanoshima (J1, 12-3) 10 Asanowaka (M14, 8-7)
Hamanoshima (M9, 6-9) 11 Tochinohana (M6, 4-11)
Otsukasa (J3, 10-5) 12 Terao (J2, 8-7)
Kinkaiyama (M11, 6-9) 13 Jumonji (J3, 8-7)
Minatofuji (M11, 6-9) 14 Daishi (M13, 7-8)
Aminishiki (J6, 9-6) 15
(Previous ranking and record in parentheses. Y=yokozuna, O=ozeki, S=sekiwake, K=komusubi, M=maegashira, J=juryo, r=rest)

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