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Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003

Foreigners occupy top two sumo spots

OSAKA -- Asashoryu, who was promoted to sumo's highest rank after capturing two consecutive Emperor's Cups, occupies the west side yokozuna slot as the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) released its rankings for the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.

Together with Musashimaru, it will be the first time that two foreign-born wrestlers reside in the two top positions in sumo.

Asashoryu, who became the first Mongolian to attain yokozuna status after posting impressive 14-1 records at two straight tournaments, however, appears to have an edge over Musashimaru, who is doubtful for the March 9-23 meet at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Though occupying the prestigious east slot for the 10th consecutive tourney, it is unclear whether Musashimaru will recover in time from surgery on his left wrist.

Musoyama, who just passed the grade with a 8-7 record in January, sits in the east slot with Chiyotaikai, who will have to post a winning record in March to avoid demotion after missing the last meet through injury.

Kaio, who occupies the west side with Tochiazuma, also faces relegation after sitting out the Tokyo meet and must notch eight or more wins to retain sumo's second highest rank.

Tochiazuma, who pulled out last time with a shoulder injury to finish at 0-6-9, has already said he will skip the March tourney.

Sekiwake Takanowaka and Kotomitsuki, both of whom posted 9-6 records in January, will be aiming to perform their best in March with a shot at ozeki promotion on the line.

Wakanosato, meanwhile, makes his return to sumo's third-highest rank after a stellar 11-4 performance in January.

In other moves, Dejima and Tosanoumi climbed in rank to komusubi after registering 11-4 and 8-7 records, respectively. It will be the first time in nine basho that Dejima moves back to the "sanyaku" ranks -- three spots below yokozuna -- and Tosanoumi's first after two basho.

Also, Mongolian Asasekiryu will make his debut in the elite makuuchi division as a No. 10 maegashira after finishing his campaign at 11-4 in the juryo ranks last time out.



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