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Sunday, Sept. 12, 2004

AUTUMN GRAND SUMO TOURNAMENT

Asashoryu set to drive for five

After becoming only the ninth sumo wrestler to win four straight tournaments, Asashoryu is poised to take a big step toward reaching a new landmark when the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament gets under way Sunday.

News photo
Yokozuna Asashoryu (left) will have to overcome the likes of ozeki Kaio to capture his fifth straight Emperor's Cup. The Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament begins Sunday in Tokyo.

Asashoryu enters the 15-day tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan as the sole yokozuna for the fifth straight time and once again the odds-on favorite to add to his collection of Emperor's Cups as his dominance on the dohyo clay appears unbreakable.

The 23-year-old Mongolian's triumph in Nagoya in July gave him his eighth career title in the top echelon and made him only the ninth wrestler to claim four makuuchi division titles in a row.

Taiho holds the record victory run of six tourneys since the current setup of six tournaments a year was put in place in 1958, and only two others -- Kitanoumi and Chiyonofuji -- have won five straight.

No one has completed a sweep of six tournaments in the same year and Asashoryu, whose streak began at the New Year tournament in January, finds himself in good position to set such a precedent.

Many think there are few obstacles between him and that goal.

"I believe the Emperor's Cup will be his again this time. You cannot find anyone who has the right answer to his weaponry," said Yoshio Ishibashi, head of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council.

"Hopefully, the ozeki wrestlers will get hold of themselves and show some pride," Ishibashi said after watching the performances of top wrestlers in a regular pre-tournament tour of practice sessions.

"It's business as usual. I've been doing everything I can in my preparations for the new tournament. I'll give all that I've got each and every day like I did last time, without thinking about unnecessary things," Asashoryu said.

"I've won all the tournaments so far this year and I'll just take the same approach to my sumo into the remaining two," he said when asked about his chances of a clean sweep of six tourneys.

The feisty grand champion was the chief protagonist out of the ring as well following his triumph in Nagoya with a 13-2 record.

Only a few nights after the end of the tournament, Asashoryu went on a drunken rage and prompted neighbors of his Takasago stable to call the police. He later apologized for the rampage, which he said resulted from him being released from the stress of his title chase.

While all the hype appears to be the soundtrack of Asashoryu's unstoppable success story, the title race would be wide open should he slip up after showing some shakiness in Nagoya.

The ozeki quartet of Kaio, Chiyotaikai, Tochiazuma and Musoyama are considered the nearest challengers but are expected to share spoils in a pack also including some rank-and-filers.

Veteran Kaio finished the Nagoya tourney with an 11-4 record after briefly moving into contention down the stretch, but the embarrassing form he showed in practice bouts against Asashoryu hugely disappointed sumo officials looking for a man to fill the other yokozuna spot.



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