Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Sumo star receives death threat

IN THE FIRING LINE Asashoryu’s antics both in and out of the ring have raised the ire of sumo traditionalists, who feel he doesn’t show enough respect for the ancient sport

AP , TOKYO

Grand champion Asashoryu of Mongolia received a death threat on the opening day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, the Japan Sumo Association said yesterday.

The threat, which read “coming to Ryogoku to kill Asashoryu,” appeared on the popular Japanese Internet forum 2channel shortly before Asashoryu stepped into the ring to face Kisenosato in his first bout.

“The threat was posted on an Internet Web site on Sunday,” Japan Sumo Association spokesman Hayashi said. “There was no direct contact with Asashoryu.”

Asashoryu, unaware of the threat at the time, defeated Kisenosato and has won all three his bouts so far in the 15-day meet at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan’s main sumo venue.

Police security at Ryogoku has been tightened after the threat appeared on 2channel.

Asashoryu’s antics both in and out of the ring have raised the ire of sumo traditionalists, who feel the cocky grand champion doesn’t show enough respect for Japan’s ancient sport.

In 2007, Asashoryu sat out a summer exhibition tournament because of injuries but was later caught on videotape playing in a charity soccer match in Mongolia.

There have also been allegations that he underreported his taxes and he was accused of being involved in a bout-rigging scandal by a tabloid-style magazine last year.

Earlier in his career, Asashoryu was involved in a hair-pulling episode when he yanked the topknot of fellow Mongolian Kyokushuzan during a bout. Hair-pulling in sumo is akin to ear-biting in boxing, and never before had a grand champion lost a bout for resorting to it.

Sumo currently has only two grand champions. The other, Hakuho, is also from Mongolia.

Asashoryu appears to be unfazed by the threat and won his third bout yesterday, throwing down Kyokutenho to keep pace with fellow grand champion Hakuho.

Beleaguered Asashoryu survived the top maegashira’s throwing attempt before fighting back with an underarm throw, smashing his opponent to the dirt surface at Ryogoku Kokugikan to improve his record to 3-0.

Asashoryu sat out part or all of the last three tournaments due to injuries to his elbow and knee. The 28-year-old has won 22 Emperor’s Cups, but his repeated absence and loss of the dominance he enjoyed until a few years ago have triggered questions about whether he should continue his sumo career.

The Mongolian grand champion will have to stay in contention throughout the 15-day meet to avoid more pressure for his retirement.

Hakuho quickly shoved out Miyabiyama and extended his winning streak to three, against no loss. The No. 2 maegashira Miyabiyama fell to 1-2.

In other major bouts, newly promoted ozeki Harumafuji, also Mongolian, was easily pushed out by komusubi Toyonoshima for an embarrassing third straight loss since the opening day. Toyonoshima picked up his first win against two losses.

Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu charged Yoshikaze with fierce hand thrusts into the chest while pushing the No. 2 maegashira to the straw ridge, giving him a final push to remain unbeaten at 3-0. Yoshikaze dipped to 1-2.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai bulldozed out Aminishiki for 3-0, with the sekiwake slipping to 1-2.

Estonian sekiwake Baruto struggled to throw out Kisenosato and the pair ended up flying out of the ring together, but Baruto hit the dirt a split second after his opponent, grabbing a lucky third win for a 3-0 record. Kisenosato, a komusubi, is still winless.

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