H A W A I I _ S U M O T O R I


Star-Bulletin News Services

Saturday, May 8, 1999


Musashimaru aims for
yokozuna, Akebono returns

TOKYO, May 7 (Kyodo) -- Ozeki Musashimaru has been here before. But, when the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament gets underway Sunday at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, the burly Hawaiian-born grappler certainly hopes it is not deja vu all over again.

Musashimaru has been a prime candidate for sumo's highest rank of yokozuna three times in the past, but in each case, when a second straight championship would have likely meant promotion, the genial Musashigawa stable ozeki has been a no-show.

Musashimaru won his first Emperor's Cup with a 15-0 showing at the Nagoya tourney in July 1994, but had his 11-4 performance that September overshadowed by then-ozeki Takanohana, who turned in the first of back-to-back 15-0 outings.

Musashimaru's next championship, at 11-4, came in sumo's first five-way playoff for the crown in the 1996 Kyushu tourney. He followed that up with a 12-3 record in the 1997 New Year basho, but was two victories shy of winner Wakanohana, who was also ozeki at the time.

The following year, Musashimaru won the New Year tourney, but faltered badly in March with a barely passable 8-7 performance at the spring tourney in Osaka.

The fourth time, however, may be the charm since the sumo gods appear to be smiling on the former Fiamalu Penitani from Oahu Island.

After posting a 13-2 record in Osaka, Musashimaru enters the 15-day ordeal at Ryogoku with Takanohana sidelined with a shoulder injury, while grand champions Wakanohana and Akebono are decidedly not up to speed.

Furthermore, 28-year-old Musashimaru will not have to line up across from two of sumo's more formidable young powers -- sekiwake Dejima and No. 2 maegashira Miyabiyama -- since they also hail from the Musashigawa stable.

However, the two former collegiate sumo stars could provide an upset or two along the way that would spring their senior stablemate free for the crown.

Some detractors, of course, have pointed to the weaker field Musashimaru is facing, but the new head of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, Kazuo Ichiriki, has already said that, in essence, a win is a win.

But, even with the opposition depleted, Musashimaru's road to the championship will not be without obstacles.

Ozeki rival Takanonami appears as crafty as ever and will be looking to exact some revenge for the one-sided loss he suffered with the title on the line in Osaka.

He may also be the Futagoyama stable's best hope of ending a string of three straight basho without a sip from the Emperor's Cup -- the stable's longest winless streak since Akebono won three championships in a row in the last half of 1993.

Meanwhile, Wakanohana, slowed with a thigh injury suffered in March, has always wrestled over his head when the odds were against him and will be seeking his first championship since being promoted to yokozuna one year ago.

Fellow Hawaiian Akebono, who missed the last three tourneys with a herniated disk in his lower back, will return to the ring for the first time in six months, but has looked tentative in pre-tourney practices.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai, who was forced out of his debut tourney at sumo's second highest rank with a broken nose in Osaka, will sit out the entire summer meet.

The scrappy, young ozeki from the Kokonoe stable, however, will be allowed to retain his ranking until the Nagoya tourney in July, when he will need to register eight or more wins or take a slide down the rankings list.

Sekiwake Akinoshima and komusubi Tochiazuma have turned some heads in practice. Veteran Akinoshima, 32, will be aiming for another 11-win performance and possible consideration for ozeki, while 22-year-old Tochiazuma will be seeking his breakout tournament.

Miyabiyama, who made his makuuchi debut in the spring tourney as a No. 7 maegashira and won the Fighting Spirit Prize with a 9-6 record, injured his left knee during one of sumo's provincial tours but will still be a force to reckon with.

For more sumo information
online, try Sumo Web!

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