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Takahashi tries to turn deaf ear to music distraction

Short program selection has skater caught in middle of controversy
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A scandal involving the composer of his short program music has been an unwelcome distraction for Daisuke Takahashi, but a lingering knee injury is of far greater concern for the Japanese skater's outlook at these Olympics. -Getty Images

Just days before he steps onto the ice for his short program in what will be his final Olympic Games, Daisuke Takahashi finds himself distracted by an unusual musical scandal in Japan that really doesn't involve him in the least.

Meanwhile, his Japanese teammate, Tatsuki Machida, is recovering from a practice fall two days ago that he says knocked him out of the Olympic clouds and back down to reality.

First, Takahashi, who arrived on Sochi on Sunday and had his first practices the following day.

The defending Olympic bronze medalist's short program music, "Sonatina for a Violin," has been under fire since allegations surfaced last week that its famous composer, Mamoru Samuragochi, long thought to be deaf, was not only hearing but not much of a composer at all.

As reported in Japanese media and The New York Times, Samuragochi confessed that he had hired a ghostwriter to compose most of his major works.

The hapless Takahashi was drawn into the saga when that ghostwriter, Takashi Niigaki, held a press conference and alleged Samuragochi had been feigning deafness for more than 20 years in order to elicit comparisons to Beethoven. Niigaki further claimed it was watching Takahashi skate to "Sonatina for a Violin" that made him come forward.

"[Samuragochi] told me that if I didn't write songs for him, he'd commit suicide," Niigaki is quoted by The New York Times. "But I could not bear the thought of skater Takahashi being seen by the world as a co-conspirator in our crime."

It all came as quite a shock to the 27-year-old skater, who certainly did not want to change his short program just days before leaving for Sochi.

"To be honest, when I heard about this, I was just astonished," Takahashi said through an interpreter. "I wasn't sure whether I could even still use this music or not.

"I didn't know the background [of the composer]; I just thought it was good music. Now there seems to be a question mark. I hope everything will come to [a] conclusion and everybody will be happy I am using this music."

Japanese team leader Yoshiko Kobayashi confirmed Takahashi will stick with "Sonatina for a Violin" but said the Japanese Skating Federation has requested the ISU remove composer Samuragochi's name from the music credit.

Far more importantly, Takahashi admitted he has still not completely recovered from a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final in December and limited his performances at this season's Japanese nationals, where he placed fifth.

"My overall condition is good; it is only the right knee that is not 100 percent," Takahashi said. "I don't have much pain any more, but there is water on the knee, which is a bit of a problem. It is still a bit difficult for me to adjust to this condition."

The skater has never been known for great consistency with quads, and his knee troubles have added further uncertainty.

"At this time, I have one quad toe planned in the free skate; apart from that, I have nothing planned," Takahashi said. "I will see how I feel. I won't know exactly until the last minute."

"I had this injury before nationals, and I had to adjust," he continued. "I've been trying to recover my quad jumps."

Machida, 23, placed third in the men's team free skate Sunday night behind Evgeni Plushenko and Kevin Reynolds after missing several jumps.

"The free program I did, I felt was pretty good," he said. "But I think I can do much better in the individual event. I am looking to get a medal."

Machida won Skate America and the Rostelecom Cup last fall and placed fourth at the Grand Prix Final. He snagged a spot on the highly competitive Japanese team by winning silver at nationals behind Yuzuru Hanyu, beating out Takahiko Kozuka and Nobunari Oda, among others. (Takahashi was awarded the third spot due to his body of work.)

"For me, this is the first and last Olympics, I guess, so I want no regrets," Machida said. "I want to be aggressive in this competition.

"Yesterday (in the team free skate) was my first time competing in an Olympic atmosphere, and it was very different from other competitions. I felt a lot of pressure for my team. When I have to fight for myself in the individual event, I would like to perform as I usually do."

Japanese reporters were still abuzz about a tough fall Machida took in practice two days ago, when he bumped his head and body into the boards and did not move for almost a minute.

"While that accident was [due to] my carelessness, up to that point, I was swamped by the Olympics, so much so [that] I couldn't really control myself," he said. "I was kind of floating."

The knock on the noggin seems to have been just what the doctor ordered.

"After that accident, my eyes were really opened," said Machida, an avid reader who tends to use rather poetic verse. "I thought, 'I really need to concentrate.' I am still suffering from some soreness, but the accident made me better and calmed me down. I think maybe I was given a trial sent by God, to rescue me for the individual event."

Hanyu, the Japanese champion who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser, is scheduled to address reporters in the mixed zone after his practice Tuesday.

It's a go for Plushenko

Three weeks ago, no one was sure whether Evgeni Plushenko, the 31-year-old 2006 Olympic champion, would compete at all in Sochi. Now, it appears he will skate four programs.

After Russian champion Maxim Kovtun, the 18-year-old seen by many as Plushenko's heir, placed a disappointing fifth at the 2014 European Figure Skating Championships, Plushenko performed a private monitoring session for Russian figure skating officials. They deemed the veteran worthy of the country's sole men's spot in Sochi. Plushenko rose to the occasion, placing second in the team event short and winning the team free skate.

Many thought Plushenko would withdraw after helping Russia win team gold, citing injury. The skater's coach, Alexei Mishin, refused to answer questions concerning his fitness, saying only, "Let's not rush in front of the car." ISU Communication No. 1844 states a substitution may be made for the men's individual event if it is deemed medically urgent and filed by Feb. 10; since no filing has been made, Plushenko will compete.

Perhaps we never should have doubted Plushenko, who did just one quad in his team free skate but proclaimed in the mixed zone, "I have another quad in my pocket." His wife, Yana Rudkovskaya, also came through the mixed zone, saying "Evgeni's performance was OK, but he usually does two quads, including a quad-triple."

He'll have another chance to fulfill his missus' expectations.