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Thursday, Jan. 16, 2003

NEW YEAR BASHO

Asashoryu rolls on as Takanohana announces return

Mongolian ozeki Asashoryu delved into his arsenal to shoot down veteran Takanonami on Wednesday, maintaining his flawless start to the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on a day that also saw yokozuna Takanohana announce his umpteenth comeback bid.

After jumping the gun in the day's final bout at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, Asashoryu (4-0) escaped from Takanonami's clutches to take control of matters by sliding his opponent across the sand surface and tipping him over the edge of the ring for his second loss.

Asashoryu, who with 13 wins and his second Emperor's Cup would become the first Mongolian to earn promotion to sumo's top rank of yokozuna, is in a three-way tie for the lead with rank-and-filers Kotoryu and Kaiho.

Earlier in the day, Takanohana decided to return to the 15-day meet Thursday just two days after withdrawing with a shoulder injury.

The grand champion, whose career has been blighted over the past 18 months by a serious knee injury, pulled out after suffering ligament damage to his left shoulder in a bout against top-ranked maegashira Miyabiyama on Monday.

Takanohana's father and stablemaster Futagoyama said he decided to allow Takanohana to return to the tournament after the new injury proved less serious than first feared.

Takanohana picked up the latest injury in a controversial win against Miyabiyama on Monday. The yokozuna crashed onto the clay on his back under the full weight of the 181-kg Miyabiyama following a rare leg-sweeping throw by the maegashira.

Ringside judges ordered a rematch -- won easily by Takanohana -- saying both wrestlers touched the dirt at the same time.

However, the first bout took its toll as Takanohana left the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena late Monday with a heavily strapped shoulder and sat out his scheduled bout the next day. But the 30-year-old will make a quick return against No. 2 maegashira Toki on Thursday.

Putting his career on the line, Takanohana opted to wrestle in Tokyo after sitting out the Kyushu meet in November following an impressive comeback in September from a career-threatening knee injury that sidelined him for seven consecutive tournaments.

On each of the first two days at the ongoing New Year meet, Takanohana narrowly escaped a loss against a lower-ranked grappler and saw his latest comeback bid turn into his 17th pullout from a tournament of his career -- all as yokozuna.

Musashimaru, the other yokozuna, pulled out early in the November meet and opted to sit out the whole tournament this month. Ozeki Kaio and Chiyotaikai are also out with injuries sustained in the Kyushu meet.

Elsewhere, struggling ozeki Tochiazuma was dumped for his fourth straight defeat by Mongolian No. 2 maegashira Kyokutenho (3-1) but Musoyama (2-2) bounced back from Tuesday's shock defeat to Tosanoumi by easily bundling out winless Toki.

In the lower echelons of the makuuchi division, Kasugao, the first wrestler from South Korea to compete in sumo's top flight, stayed in touch with the leaders after outlasting fellow rank-and-filer Jumonji (1-3).



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The Japan Times




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