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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008

Hakuho keeps east slot for spring tournament

OSAKA (Kyodo) Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho has retained the prestigious east slot after the Japan Sumo Association released the rankings Monday for the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka.

Hakuho stole Asashoryu's thunder on his yokozuna rival's return to the raised ring at the New Year meet, clinching the Emperor's Cup with a 14-1 record in Tokyo.

Hakuho's win keeps Asashoryu on the lesser-regarded west side for the March 9 to 23 spring basho at Osaka Municipal Gymnasium, where Hakuho will be gunning for his fourth title in succession.

Asashoryu returned to action at the New Year meet after serving a two-tournament ban but looked rusty at times, and missed out on the trophy after being taken down by Hakuho on the final day.

But the 27-year-old, who will be wrestling in his 31st basho as a yokozuna in Osaka, appears to have shaken off the cobwebs and will be eager to keep the momentum going after winning a recent one-day event in Tokyo.

At ozeki, Chiyotaikai's rank is on the line for a record-equaling 11th time after he pulled out of the New Year meet, while Kotoshogiku returns to sumo's third-highest rank of sekiwake for the first time in six tournaments.

Elsewhere, former collegiate champion Takekaze moves up to komusubi, giving the Oguruma stable its first wrestler in the "sanyaku" ranks — the three ranks below yokozuna — since the stable was founded by former ozeki Kotokaze in 1987.

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