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Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003

RITE OF PASSAGE

Asashoryu officially becomes sumo's 68th yokozuna

Mongolian sumo wrestler Asashoryu was formally inducted as the sport's 68th yokozuna on Friday, performing the "dohyo-iri" ring-purification ritual at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

The 22-year-old Takasago stable grand champion received the yokozuna's diploma and the rope belt signifying sumo's highest rank from sumo elder Kitanoumi, chairman of the Japan Sumo Association.

Asashoryu, who is the third foreign-born wrestler following Akebono and Musashimaru to attain yokozuna status, then performed the "unryu" style ring-purification ritual in front of the hall of worship at the shrine.

"I was nervous. I was just thinking about performing the 'dohyo-iri' and not making a mistake. But I was very nervous," Asashoryu said. "Being yokozuna will be very tough but I will do my best to bring excitement to the sumo world."

Top-division wrestler Toki acted as "tachi-mochi" (sword bearer) while fellow maegashira Takamisakari served as "tsuyu-harai" (herald) for Asashoryu, whose real name is Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj.

Asashoryu, who became the first grand champion from Mongolia after winning successive tournaments with impressive 14-1 records, performed the ritual of arm and leg defensive and offensive stances in front of some 3,000 cheering and applauding sumo fans.

The ritual went off without a hitch though the newly promoted yokozuna had struggled in the previous day's practice.

Also in attendance were Asashoryu's father, whose name is also Dolgorsuren, and mother Purevbadam.

"I'm so happy for him. I felt like it was me becoming yokozuna," his father said.



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