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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002

Tochiazuma poised for promotion

OSAKA (Kyodo) Ozeki Tochiazuma will put promotion to yokozuna on the line when he steps onto the raised ring from the prestigious east side at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) officially awarded the New Year winner the No. 3 spot among active wrestlers behind yokozuna duo Musashimaru and Takanohana in its rankings for the March 10-24 tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Tochiazuma became the first ozeki debutante in 33 years to win the Emperor's Cup last month when he beat fellow ozeki Chiyotaikai in a championship playoff after posting a 13-2 record in regulation bouts at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The triumph also made Tochiazuma the first wrestler in 61 years to win the title in all of sumo's six divisions, but at the same time put extra pressure on the 25-year-old ahead of a tourney known for being filled with upsets and surprises.

Injury-prone Chiyotaikai, who pulled out of four tournaments last year, was rewarded with the No. 2 position among the four ozeki for his impressive escape from a relegation threat.

He will occupy the west spot, with Musoyama and Kaio lining up behind Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai to round off the ozeki wrestlers.

Musashimaru stays on the east side at the summit of the sumo hierarchy after a wrist injury forced him to withdraw early in the New Year meet. Takanohana remains as a west yokozuna but is still doubtful for his appearance after sitting out the last four meets.

Former ozeki Takanonami's return to komusubi is the only change in the lineup of "sanyaku," or three ranks below yokozuna.

At one rank higher, sekiwake Kotomitsuki gears up for a fresh campaign to convince sumo officials after being overlooked in his bid to earn ozeki promotion despite meeting the JSA's loosely set requirement with a 12-3 record in January.

Mongolian Asashoryu sits in the opposite spot as west sekiwake after narrowly claiming a winning record at 8-7.

Shimotori and Towanoyama will make their debuts in the makuuchi division while New Year juryo division champion Takamisakari and Takatoriki return to the top flight.

Sumo Rankings for Spring Basho
Musashimaru (Y, 1-3-11) Yokozuna Takanohana (Y, 0-0-15)
Tochiazuma (O, 13-2) Ozeki Chiyotaikai O, 12-3
Musoyama (O, 10-5) Ozeki Kaio (O, 9-6)
Kotomitsuki (S, 12-3) Sekiwake Asashoryu (S, 8-7)
Wakanosato (K, 8-7) Komusubi Takanonami (M3, 8-7)
Buyuzan (M8, 11-4) M.1 Tosanoumi (M7, 9-6)
Kyokutenho (K, 6-9) M.2 Kotonowaka (M5, 8-7)
Tochinodana (M6, 8-7) 3 Kyokushuzan (M1, 6-9)
Akinoshima (M1, 6-9) 4 Tokitsuumi (M11, 11-4)
Toki (M2, 6-9) 5 Otsukasa (M7, 8-7)
Aminishiki (M10, 9-6) 6 Hayateumi (M6, 0-0-15)
Dejima (M4, 6-9) 7 Tamakasuga (M9, 8-7)
Miyabiyama (S, 0-0-15) 8 Kaiho (M3, 5-10)
Tamanoshima (M2, 3-12) 9 Daizen (M8, 7-8)
Tochisakae (M14, 9-6) 10 Chiyotenzan (M4, 3-7-5)
Hamanishiki (M13, 8-7) 11 Takanowaka (M5, 3-4-8)
Shimotori (J3, 12-3) 12 Oikari (M11, 7-8)
Takamisakari (J5, 12-3) 13 Towanoyama (J3, 11-4)
Oginishiki (M13, 7-8) 14 Takatoriki (J2, 9-6)
Tamarikido (M10, 4-11) 15 Wakanoyama (M12, 5-10)
Kyokushuzan (M5, 1-12-2) 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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