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Sunday, May 9, 2004

SUMMER GRAND TOURNAMENT

Asashoryu poised for record run


By GUS FIELDING

After demolishing all before him en route to a second straight Emperor's Cup without a loss in March, indestructible yokozuna Asashoryu is on the verge of achieving a remarkable feat.

News photo
Yokozuna Asashoryu heads into the Summer Grand Tournament in Tokyo having won the past two basho with perfect 15-0 records. A third straight clean slate would make his the first to accomplish the feat since 1949.

The explosive 23-year-old from Ulan Bator, who has taken the sumo world by storm since making his debut five years ago, will become the first wrestler in the Heisei era to post 31 consecutive wins if he can take out komusubi Miyabiyama at the Summer Grand Tournament on Sunday.

And having lost to the former ozeki just twice in 13 meetings, it would take a brave man to bet against Asashoryu extending his astonishing winning streak on the opening day of the 15-day meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Takasago stable grand champion, however, insists that breaking records are far from his thoughts.

"I'm not really thinking about consecutive titles and wins and all that stuff," Asashoryu told reporters at a recent practice session.

"I just need to make sure I'm at full strength heading into the tournament," said Asashoryu, who has been suffering from a slight cold.

A third straight title with an unblemished record for Asashoryu would make him the first to do it since the summer meet in 1949.

And former yokozuna Wakanohana believes he is more than capable of going undefeated to chalk up 45 straight victories.

"Watching the way he has been wrestling I just can't see him losing. He doesn't look like he's feeling any pressure and seems to be brimming with confidence."

While Asashoryu is the red-hot favorite for the title, Kaio and Chiyotaikai will be plotting his downfall as the ozeki duo make their latest bids for promotion to yokozuna.

And both men will be under pressure to instill some pride in the national sport that is without a Japanese-born wrestler at yokozuna following the retirement of Takanohana in January last year.

However, having finished two wins behind Asashoryu at the spring meet, both will need to win the summer title and do it convincingly to stand any chance of joining Asashoryu at the top of sumo's tree, a tall order given their pre-tournament form.

Chiyotaikai looked far from convincing at last week's practice session before the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, losing six of his 14 bouts, including three to up-and-coming Asasekiryu.

"I've never been that strong when it comes to practice," Chiyotaikai shrugged. "Besides I never try go full throttle before the tournament starts."

Perennial bridesmaid Kaio's career has been a roller coaster ride of soaring expectations derailed by injuries and an attitude that seemed to lose its focus at the most inopportune times.



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