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Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2002

Asashoryu claims top ozeki spot

Ozeki Asashoryu, who became the first Mongolian to claim the Emperor's Cup last month, has been awarded the top ozeki slot as the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) released its rankings Tuesday for the upcoming New Year's Grand Sumo Tournament.

Asashoryu, who won in Fukuoka with a 14-1 record, may gain top seed status because of injuries that have left grand champions Musashimaru and Takanohana doubtful for the Jan. 12-26 meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Kasugao, meanwhile, becomes the first South Korean to break into sumo's elite makuuchi division, making his debut at 13th maegashira prior to sumo wrestlers' groundbreaking tour to his country expected in June next year.

The 25-year-old native of Seoul won the second-tier juryo-division championship at the Kyushu meet with an 11-4 record.

Musashimaru, who is recovering from surgery on his left wrist, is placed on the east side while Takanohana sits on the west.

Musashimaru aggravated a chronic wrist injury and pulled out after five days in Kyushu. He had surgery late last month and stable master Musashigawa has suggested he will not wrestle in January.

Sumo sources said Takanohana also looks unfit and is expected to wait until the eleventh hour to decide whether to make his first appearance since September, when he marked an impressive 12 wins after missing a record seven straight tournaments with a knee injury.

Ozeki Musoyama, who went 10-5 in Kyushu, takes the west spot -- opposite Asashoryu. Tochiazuma is in the second east position below the Mongolian after scraping out a winning 8-7 record to escape from the danger of relegation from sumo's second highest rank.

Injured ozeki Chiyotaikai and Kaio will likely be sidelined and face relegation when they return in March.

In other moves, Takanowaka climbed one rung higher to sekiwake after going 11-4. Veteran former ozeki Takanonami moves back to the prestigious "sanyaku" ranks -- three spots below yokozuna -- at komusubi.



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