Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, May 6, 1999

W I T H _H A W A I I 'S _S U M O T O R I

aims for top rank

He has a golden opportunity
to shed his reputation as a choker

Kyodo News Service


TOKYO -- Ozeki Musashimaru said today he is ready to finally shake the monkey from his back by winning promotion to yokozuna with a strong showing at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, which gets under way Sunday.

The giant born in Hawaii as Fiamalu Penitani, who bulldozed fellow ozeki Takanonami on the final day to bag his fourth Emperor's Cup at the Osaka tourney in March, said, "I've done everything I'm supposed to" in preparation for the 15-day meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Musashimaru's streak of 51 straight tournaments with a winning record is unparalleled in the history of Japan's ancient sport, but the star of the Musashigawa stable also has a reputation for choking under pressure after failing to post back-to-back championships.

"I want to reach yokozuna as quickly as possible. I know what my problem has been (in the past) -- my heart," the wrestler said, confirming what many pundits have been saying since he made his debut at sumo's second highest rank in March 1994.

Musashimaru, who has cut alcohol from his diet and trimmed 20 pounds off the 490-pound bulk he was carrying in Osaka, knows he has a realistic shot at promotion in Tokyo with some of his main rivals struggling with injuries.

Yokozuna Takanohana is likely to skip the tourney due to an injured right shoulder, ozeki Chiyotaikai -- who broke his nose in a bout with Musashimaru at the spring meet -- has already announced his withdrawal, while grand champions Wakanohana and Akebono are less than 100% fit.

"I know it's a good chance," said Musashimaru with a trademark shrug of the shoulders.

His stable master Musashigawa pointed out the obvious, saying that "the mental aspect is his only problem" and former yokozuna Kitanofuji, who watched Musashimaru practice earlier this week, agreed.

"There's no doubt that his sumo is strong, but the only thing that could stop him (becoming yokozuna) is his attitude," he said.

Musashimaru's records following his previous three Emperor's Cup victories are 11-4, 12-3 and 8-7, and another failure to get over the hump could mean an unwanted entry into sumo's record books for the 28-year-old Musashimaru.

Assuming he makes yokozuna before he quits the sport, Musashimaru would overtake Kotozakura as the slowest wrestler to jump from ozeki to yokozuna if he cannot nail down his promotion this time out in Tokyo.

For more sumo information
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