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Monday, July 23, 2001

Kaio finishes with 13-2 record

Special to the Japan Times

Though he lost to fellow ozeki Musoyama in an anti-climatic bout on the final day, ozeki Kaio won the Nagoya tournament with a fine 13-2 record.

Kaio clinched the title by defeating Musashimaru on the 14th day. Kaio's victory in July was nothing short of remarkable given his poor condition prior to the tournament. Still suffering from the back pain that forced him to withdraw from the Tokyo May tournament with a poor 4-5-6 record, Kaio was not able to train at all until the final week before the Nagoya Basho. He had no choice but to compete in Nagoya, as he would have been demoted from ozeki had he failed to achieve kachikoshi (win 8 or more bouts).

Despite his lack of training, Kaio good off to a strong start, winning his first eight bouts. He suffered a stunning upset on the 9th day, when he had difficulty synchronizing his tachiai when he faced No.1 maegashira Takanonami.

The fading former ozeki, sensing an unusual opportunity, slammed into Kaio and drove him before he could regain his equilibrium.

Meanwhile, yokozuna Musashimaru remained undefeated until the 11th day, when he was upset by komusubi Wakanosato. In the final stretch of the tournament, Kaio's back pain worsened and he only narrowly extracted precarious victories in his bouts with Miyabiyama and Chiyotaikai. However, Musashimaru lost to sekiwake Tochiazuma on the 13th day, which gave Kaio the sole lead.

In the decisive clash of the tournament, Kaio overwhelmed Musashimaru on the 14th day with a frontal attack followed by a powerful throw.

Kaio is the first kadoban (endangered rank) ozeki to win the yusho since January 1994, when Takanohana came back from a 7-8 record in the previous tournament to take the title.

Kaio now has three titles to his credit. He will almost certainly be promoted to yokozuna if he wins the yusho again in September.

The burly 28 year old ozeki is obviously at his prime, and has what it takes to succeed in September, if his back holds up. As the only competing yoko

zuna in July, Musashimaru's performance was disappointing. Although he was the runnerup with a decent 12-3 record, including a final day win over Chiyotaikai, one cannot but feel that he could have taken the title had he had the fierce determination of Kaio. On some days, Musashimaru's tachiai was simply too slow, allowing his opponents to take control of the action on the dohyo.

Musashimaru has not won a tournament since last September, and with fellow yokozuna Takanohana likely to be absent until at least January next year, the pressure on the 30 year old yokozuna will mount unless he comes through with a yusho.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai finished in third place with an 11-4 record. He still needlessly attempts to pull his opponents down, largely through instinct, but his overall performance is obviously improving.

Not really a yokozuna candidate at this stage, the 25 year old Kokonoe Beya rikishi should aim first to become a consistently strong ozeki. With the three Musashigawa Beya ozeki continuing to disappoint, Chiyotaikai needs to fill the void, and so far is succeeding.

Musoyama managed to win in double-digits for once, with a 10-5 record. He defeated yusho winner Kaio on the final day, though Kaio seemed somewhat less than fiercely determined to win.

As in May, Musoyama was quite impressive on some days, especially when he managed to demolish opponents with one concerted push forward. On other days, especially when he was forced on the defensive, he looked pitiful.

Miyabiyama, at 23, the youngest of the three Musashigawa Beya ozeki, got off to a disastrous start, with his record standing at 2-5 after the first seven days. Clumsy and dispirited in the first week, Miyabi caught fire in the second week, only to suffer makekoshi (a majority of losses) by losing to sekiwake Tochiazuma on the final day.

Miyabiyama will be demoted from ozeki unless he wins 8 or more bouts in September The fifth ozeki, Dejima, was forced to drop out with a 3-3 record with an inflamed leg and a high fever. Since he also failed in May with a 5-10 record, Dejima will be demoted to sekiwake in September.

The 27 year old Dejima will be able to return to ozeki if he wins 10 or more bouts in September. If he fails to do so, he will have to start from scratch in any quest for promotion back to ozeki.

Sekiwake Tochiazuma gained a foothold for ozeki promotion with a 10-5 record, which included an upset of yokozuna Musashimaru. Tochiazuma has always had the handicap of being smaller than most of the Makunouchi rikishi, and he will have an uphill battle to reach ozeki.

However, he is still only 24 and has time on his side. The other sekiwake, Kotomitsuki, fell apart with a poor 5-10 record, despite being in good shape and displaying strong fighting spirit.

Komusubi Asashoryu, who was a yokozuna and ozeki killer in May, lost badly to the higher ranks this time, but rallied in bouts with lower opponents.

By losing to Tosanoumi on the final day, however, he suffered his 8th loss and will be demoted. The other komusubi, Wakanosato, looked like he would have a chance to take the yusho at one point in July; he upset yokozuna Musashimaru and was 9-2 as of the 11th day. He faded late in the basho and ended up with a 9-6 mark.

No.7 Maegashira Tamanoshima shared runnerup honors with Musashimaru with a superb 12-3 record. He may be promoted to komusubi in September. Tamanoshima was awarded the Kantosho (Fighting Spirit Prize), while Wakanosato took the Shukunsho (Outstanding Performance Award).

Tochiazuma and Tokitsuumi shared the Ginosho (Technique Prize).

The Juryo title fell to the 9-6 level for the first time in history, and after a grueling eight-way playoff, Buyuzan emerged victorious. Thirty-eight-year-old Terao achieved a 9-6 record at a high Juryo rank and may return to Makunouchi, as will another veteran, Takatoriki.

The third popular old timer in Juryo, 37-year-old Tomonohana, managed to survive at the bottom of Juryo despite a neck injury he sustained in March. The battleworn former komusubi needed eight wins to avoid demotion to Makushita and retirement; he won his last four bouts to squeak by.

The Makushita yusho was taken by former maegashira Gojoro, with a 7-0 record.

The sandanme title went to Kainowaka, the jonidan to Kitamura, and the jonokuchi to Murata, all with 7-0 records.

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