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Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Asashoryu retains top east slot

OSAKA (Kyodo) Yokozuna Asashoryu, who was undefeated at the previous basho to win his fifth Emperor's Cup title, will again lead the charge atop the prestigious east slot as the Japan Sumo Association announced the rankings on Monday for the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

Asashoryu, who posted 15 wins at the New Year meet in January for the first time in his career in the elite makuuchi division, will throw down the gauntlet to all challengers as the sole remaining grand champion when the meet kicks off at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on March 14.

Meanwhile, Chiyotaikai and Tochiazuma, who gave their all at the previous meet to eke out 10-5 and 9-6 records, respectively, share the ozeki east positions.

Tochiazuma failed to post the necessary 13 wins in his bid for yokozuna promotion and will have to start anew.

Kaio, who finished with a 10-5 record, has been relegated to the west slot along with Musoyama, who will need to notch eight or more wins at the Osaka basho to keep his ozeki rank after sitting out part of the previous meet with a knee injury.

Elsewhere, Wakanosato makes his return to the east sekiwake spot for the first time in two tournaments while former ozeki hopeful Kotomitsuki returns to the west slot after six basho, following a superb 13-2 showing in Tokyo.

It will be Wakanosato's 14th consecutive meet as a "sanyaku" wrestler -- the three ranks below yokozuna -- to match a record set by ozeki Kaio.

In the lower echelons, Kakizoe will sit in the east komusubi position while Shimotori occupies the west. Crowd favorite Takamisakari, who had a miserable 4-11 outing in January, has been demoted to an eighth-ranked maegashira on the east side.



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