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Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 22 July 2008 07:24    PDF Print
Interview: Hannah Whelan (Great Britain)
(11 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Whelan at the 2008 British Championships

Hannah Whelan turned 16 on July 1, but this year's birthday celebration included a special gift that she earned herself: a berth on the 2008 British Olympic team.

After finishing third all-around and first on balance beam at the British Championships held in late June, Whelan was named one of six British female gymnasts set to compete at the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

Whelan is the second youngest member of the team that also includes 2006 world uneven bars champion Beth Tweddle (the only returning 2004 Olympian), Imogen Cairns, Becky Downie, Marissa King and Rebecca Wing.

Whelan's Olympian status is all the more impressive considering that she was only fourth all-around at the 2007 British Junior Championships.

Born in Singapore, Whelan is coached by Sarah Atwell at the City of Liverpool club, where her training partners include Tweddle. Whelan and the other members of the British Olympic team are currently in the final stages of preparation for Beijing, at the national team training center in Lilleshall.

In this IG Online interview, Whelan outlines her goals and expectations for Beijing, and the potential her British team has for success on the Olympic stage.

IG: How did you celebrate your birthday, being not only your Sweet 16 but also come soon after you were named to the Olympic team?

HW: I went out for a meal the Monday after the British Championships, which was when the selection was announced, just with my friends, my coach Sarah (Atwell) and my family. The Tuesday was my birthday when we began training at Lilleshall. When I came in they had a cake hidden at the back of the gym, which Corina (Morosan, national coach) gave me, and also a big card signed by everyone!

IG: How are you preparing yourself to handle the Olympic experience, especially being a first-year senior without World Championships experience?

HW: All the girls help me prepare and make me feel part of the team. I recently competed at the Doha Grand Prix (in Qatar) and several internationals along with the pressure of Olympic Trials, so I think I should be OK to handle it.

IG: What do you feel is special or different about this British team, which can help your team do its best in Beijing?

HW: It quite a young team which can help for us all to support each other. Obviously we have Beth and Becky Downie who are very strong, and the rest of us have quite high Start Values, so things look good for the whole team.

IG: What are your thoughts on each of the girls on the team, as far as their gymnastics strengths are concerned?

HW: Obviously the main girl is Beth who is very strong on bars but also in the all-around and she has great experience competing in major events, as has Beckie Downie. Becky Wing is very elegant especially on the floor, and she has very high Start Values so can score well. Similarly Laura and Marissa have the ability to score very well, particularly on their best pieces.

IG: How have your individual and team workouts changed between the time before the Trials, and this period leading up to the Games?

HW: We're now all training as a team, which means we can help each other out a lot more. Also we train with the national coaches all the time, which can help in making sure our routines are perfect in time for Beijing.

IG: How has clubmate Beth helped you over the years to reach Olympian status?

HW: Beth always helped me in the gym. Just the little comments help to pick you up if things are going wrong. She has the experience and she has had bad days in the gym, but it's good to know that she's gotten where she has by living through the same things that you are.

Tweddle and Whelan

IG: It's interesting to know that you were born in Singapore. Was this because your parents were working there at the time? And, when did you move to England?

HW: Yes, my dad was there because of his job. I moved over to England when I was 2.

IG: How old were you when you began gymnastics...and why gymnastics over other sports or hobbies?

HW: My mum did gymnastics when she was younger but more at recreational level, but I was the one who really wanted to get into it, having done cartwheels and handstands around the house when I was about 6 years old.

IG: Great Britain is now counted among the best teams in the world, having placed seventh at the 2007 Worlds. What are your realistic team and individual goals for Beijing?

HW: I just want to help the team achieve the best result we can, hopefully get into the team final and look to better the results that we got in the Worlds

IG: Making it to the Olympics at age 16, what other goals do you have in gymnastics beyond the 2008 Olympics?

HW: I would like to compete at Worlds and at Europeans, as I haven't done either of these yet, and I wouldn't mind doing (2010) Commonwealth Games as well! And hopefully carry on till 2012!

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Written by John Crumlish    Monday, 14 July 2008 13:33    PDF Print
Interview: Shona Morgan (Australia)
(16 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Morgan on floor at the 2008 Australian Nationals

Recently named to the 2008 Australian Olympic team, Shona Morgan is ready to bring her best to the Olympic Games next month in Beijing.

The 17-year-old Morgan has emerged as one of the top Aussie gymnasts of this Olympic year. Her flowing, clean gymnastics style served her well throughout the Australian Olympic team selection process.

In May, Morgan placed second to veteran Dasha Joura at the Australian Championships, which marked Morgan’s improvement of four positions from her finish at the 2007 championships. In late June she was confirmed as a member of the six-member Australian Olympic team, which also includes Joura, Georgia Bonora, Ashleigh Brennan, Lauren Mitchell and Olivia Vivian.

Born Sept. 1, 1990, in Mount Waverley, Vic., Morgan resides in Melbourne and trains at Waverley Gymnastics Centre. Her coaches are John Hart, Shaoyi Jiang and Sasha Vildanov.

Morgan placed 47th all-around in preliminaries at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, where Australia finished 11th the team preliminaries and thereby earned a full team berth to the Beijing Games. The top 12 teams from the 2007 Worlds will compete in Beijing, and Morgan agrees with national coach Peggy Liddick's assessment that the Aussies have the potential to win a team medal.

In this IG Online interview, the optimistic but realistic Morgan comments on her upcoming Olympic debut and the Australian team she will help lead in Beijing.

IG: You earned an automatic berth at the first trials, but how does it feel now that the final trials are over?

SM: Actually, it was not an automatic berth, as the results were tabulated over the four trials (two days of all-around at the Australian Championships, training camp and final trial), not just the two from Nationals. It is obviously a relief to know that I am actually on the team now. Now we can just buckle down and get on with our preparation.

IG: Going back to the Australian Championships, how surprised were you to place second to Dasha?

SM: It was great, but that was not what I was thinking about. I was just wanting to go out on the podium and show what I had.

IG: How did you keep your motivation to prove yourself through the training camp and final trials?

Morgan on bars at the 2008 Australian Nationals

SM: I knew that I had fairly positive chance, and if I just kept consistent, then I knew that I would be able to get through to the team.

IG: You've upgraded your vault to a double-twisting Yurchenko. What other upgrades do you have planned for Beijing?

SM: Yes, I am really enjoying performing my double. Not too many other upgrades; I have just been working on details.

IG: You "crept" onto the Worlds team last year, and seemed to come into your own as a team leader in 2008. What gave you the surge?

SM: We have really good team camaraderie, and knowing that you have those girls behind you all the way is really a confidence booster. They really believe in me.

IG: Going back to the beginning of your career, how old were you when you began gymnastics, and why did you choose it over other sports?

SM: I was 7 and just had a lot of energy. My school friend was doing gymnastics at the time and I just went along. I really liked it and kept going. I had fun and wasn't any good at ball sports. When I started competing, I had some good results and thought to myself, "Hey, I am pretty good at this." So, I just kept going, and then started getting invited to national camps.

IG: What are your impressions of the other five girls on the Olympic team, as gymnasts and characters?

SM: They are all great gymnasts and I like being with all of them. Dasha is a strong leader, but not good at driving. She almost didn't pass! Lauren is a very sweet girl and friendly. Olivia makes us all laugh; she is a very funny person. Georgia, I have basically grown up with her and she is more like a sister to me. Ashleigh is also very sweet and caring and considerate. But I love them all!

IG: This will be the first Olympic Games for everyone on the team. How are you preparing yourselves, and how are Peggy and your personal coaches preparing you for the Olympic experience?

SM: We have reviewed many videos of Olympic moments and we actually study the competitions, so we can know how to handle certain situations and how others have handled them. We do a lot of mock competitions. We have tours that go through the gym 20 times a day, so we are used to an audience all the time.

IG: When the Olympic team was announced, Peggy mentioned that your team has the potential to win the bronze medal in Beijing. Having placed 11th in Stuttgart, what will your team need to rise to the top three in Beijing?

SM: We know that it is a long shot — Peggy has made that clear — but the message was that anything can happen. So if we can prepare ourselves to hit all our routines and the situation is just right, who knows? But we might as well train as if we are going for it.

Written by John Crumlish    Saturday, 12 July 2008 11:48    PDF Print
Interview: Mattie Larson (USA)
(25 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Larson on floor at the U.S. Olympic Trials

Seventh at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, first-year senior Mattie Larson spoke with IG about her chance to make the U.S. team to the Olympics next month in Beijing.

Larson's lack of senior international experience has not affected her thus far in 2008. She placed seventh all-around at the Visa [U.S.] Championships in Boston and the U.S. Olympic Trials in Philadelphia, both held in June. Based on Larson's performances in Philadelphia and Boston, she earned a spot on the 12-woman U.S. Olympic training squad.

Following a final selection camp that will take place July 16-20 at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, the U.S. Olympic team will be named. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, who finished first and second at the trials, have already been appointed to the team. Larson is one of 10 candidates for the remaining spots.

Born May 20, 1992, in Los Angeles, Larson trains at All Olympia Gymnastics Center in her hometown. She is coached by 1980 Olympic all-around finalist Galina Marinova (Bulgaria) and 1983 world vault champion Artur Akopyan (Armenia/Soviet Union).

Larson's success at the junior level included three gold medals (all-around, floor exercise and team) at the 2007 Junior Pan American Championships in Guatemala; and sixth place all-around at the 2007 U.S. Junior Championships.

In the IG Online interview, Larson describes her preparations for the final U.S. team training camp, and where she hopes her 2008 results will lead her.

IG: You seemed to have gained a lot of confidence and consistency since competing as a junior. What do you think has made you more solid as a senior?

ML: Being put in the situation kind of makes you hit your routines flawlessly, and show everyone what you came for.

IG: What skills or routines did you pay special attention to, going into the Olympic year?

ML: There weren't any specific skills or routines, but we definitely emphasized doing a lot of routines and trying to get through them, and after that, concentrating on the small details.

IG: Most of the gymnasts in contention for the Olympic team have at least one year of senior experience, but you are a first-year senior. How have been able to adjust so quickly to what's expected of you as a senior?

ML: I don't really feel a difference between junior and senior, other than the fact that, in senior, we are closer. We have been with each other more, so I actually like it a little better in senior. Competition-wise, it's exactly the same. I'm doing some of the same routines - just adding some a few new skills. I don't really think there's a big difference.

IG: Have you felt more nervous during the actual competitions of 2008?

ML: I usually feel a little bit of nerves, but not any different from before.

IG: Do you feel you have more to prove to the selection committee, who sees your talent but doesn't know how you hold up in world competition? Or, do you just "do your thing?"

ML: I just do my thing. I want to show that it doesn't matter if you're just coming out of juniors, or if you have already been a senior. What matters is that people can trust you and can count on you to hit your routines.

Larson on beam at the 2008 U.S. Championships

IG: At trials, you seemed to run out of steam on your final floor pass (double pike) on both nights. What was the issue there?

ML: It wasn't that much of an issue, because it doesn't happen that often. I think it was endurance and technique. I was a little slow on the back handspring, Artur was saying. I've been working on it at the gym, and it's back to normal.

IG: How much of the crowd's involvement did you feed off?

ML: I really think they helped me finish that routine, because I was really tired! They were so loud. It was the loudest crowd I've even competed in front of. Even some of the girls who've been on Worlds teams were saying it was one of the most active and loudest crowds they've ever performed in front of. The crowd was really, really supportive. They didn't cheer softly for anyone. They were louder for some, but they were just a really good crowd.

IG: With two coaches — Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan — who works with you on which events?

ML: I would say they are both my main coaches. They fuel each other to be the best coaches they can be. One will say something, and help the other, and learn something new. Artur coaches me mainly on vault and bars. Galina does beam and floor dance, and Artur does floor tumbling.

I've been working with Galina since I turned 7. I've been with her since the day she opened the All Olympia gym. One other girl and I are the only ones left, the original ones, who were there the day the gym opened - even before they put the equipment in.

IG: Since trials, what have Galina and Artur been focusing on in your training?

ML: I have been working on finishing my routines, but concentrating more on vault and floor, because that's where Galina and Artur think I can contribute most to the team. They're giving me tips on the mental stuff, as well as doing as many successful routines as possible. After I get through those routines, I can focus on the details and cleaning things up. They also give me tips, like not to put too much pressure on myself because it's not like my last chance ever. It's just going to be a great experience, whether I make the team or I don't. The next time around, I'll have this Olympics experience — going through trials and training camp. They're just trying to keep me positive.

IG: What improvements are you making on vault (double-twisting Yurchenko)?

ML: I'm trying to do higher vaults, and not pike down, because that's where the deductions come in.

IG: How realistic were your expectations to be in this position? Were you hoping, or more expecting, to be in the top group that is being considered for Beijing?

  • quote

    There is so much media attention, because it's the Olympic year. It's like three years worth of competing, all put together into one year."

ML: I was definitely hoping. I didn't expect myself to do it. I wouldn't expect it of anyone in their first year as a senior. It was more like a hope and desire to get this far. I got this far and I'm going to keep hoping to get on the team, but I'm not going to expect too much from myself. The main people get nervous is themselves getting in the way, rather than other people making them nervous.

IG: How do you think you'll handle both possibilities — making the team, or not making the team?

ML: Galina and Artur have been talking with me about it, and getting me through this time by saying that, either way, it's going to be a great experience for me. If I don't make the team, and can stay away from bad injuries, then I'm definitely going to try for the next Olympics. So much has happened in one year. There is so much media attention, because it's the Olympic year. It's like three years worth of competing, all put together into one year. It's going to help me a lot, because it forces you to know what's going on, and I think that's a good thing. If I don't make the team, I think I will handle it really well. I was hoping just to make it to this point. I want to go in and see what happens, and hopefully, my parents and coaches will be proud of me.

IG: Competitively, how has the trials experience benefited you for future meets?

ML: It's helped me a lot, because I'm competing with the best in this country, and the best in this country are definitely the best in the world. It can show me where I'm standing, and this gives me more confidence.


Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 08 July 2008 07:15    PDF Print
Interview: Joseph Hagerty (USA)
(13 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Joseph Hagerty

Although 26-year-old Joseph Hagerty has not competed at a World Championships, his upward surge in the American rankings this year have earned him a place on the U.S. team heading to the Olympic Games in August.

Hagerty was named to the U.S. Olympic team following a pair of top-three all-around finishes in the key American competitions of 2008. He placed third all-around and first on high bar at the U.S. (Visa) Championships in Houston in May; and second all-around, first on floor exercise and first on high bar at the U.S. Olympic Trials, held in Philadelphia in June.

Hagerty's previous best results were fourth all-around at the 2005 U.S. Championships, and third place with the U.S. team at the 2007 Pan American Games.

Born April 19, 1982, in Albuquerque, Hagerty trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He represents Team Chevron, and is coached by Vitaly Marinitch and Alexander Shchennikov.

In this IG Online interview, Hagerty details the practical approach he is taking to his Olympic debut.

IG: Going into Trials, what did you consider to be the positive factors, as well as negative factors, in your candidacy for a spot on the Olympic team?

JH: Going into trials I thought going 12 for 12 and being in the top five on three events, and taking third in the all-around (at the Visa/U.S. Championships), were my positive factors. Winning high bar (at USAs) always helps. The negative was being so weak on pommels and rings.

IG: Right after your last routine at the trials, how realistic did you think your chances were to be put on the team?

JH: Finishing second in points and winning high bar and floor, I thought my chances were pretty good.

IG: How did you pass the time between the end of the trials and the team announcement?

JH: I went out to dinner with my family and hung out with friends, and played Final Fantasy II, an online game I play a lot.

IG: As an all-arounder, how much do you think the team format, and especially the team selection process, hurts you?

JH: Well, I don't really consider myself as an all-arounder, because I'm strong on four events and really weak on two. I kind of do horse and rings just to do them.

IG: What are your feelings on the team selection process in general?

JH: I don't really have an opinion on the selection process. I just like to do gymnastics and let the cards play, and hopefully I (will) have done enough to be selected.

IG: What are your personal expectations for Beijing?

Joseph Hagerty

JH: My expectations are to do what I do best — go out there and do my routines the best that I can do them.

IG: How has the level of training intensity changed, from USAs to Trials, and in the training period from now till Beijing?

JH: It has not changed at all. I'm just going to consider this like any other competition and train as hard as I can.

IG: The other men on the team have World Championships and/or Olympic experience. How are you preparing to cope with the Olympic experience?

JH: I have lots of experience in competitions like Pan Am Games and World Cups, so I'm just going to treat this as nothing special, even though it's the biggest meet of my life! I like to think of it as me doing just one more routine that I have done 1,000 times. It should not matter where (I do it).

IG: Now that you have had a little time to bond with your Olympic teammates, how would you describe them?

JH: I have known these guys for so long, I consider everyone of them like a brother.

IG: How much further do you think you can progress, even if the Beijing Olympics was your ultimate goal?

JH: I love to be challenged, so I think I could progress far enough to get any goal accomplished.

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 01 July 2008 19:47    PDF Print
Interview: Philipp Boy (Germany)
(22 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Philipp Boy

Germany's Philipp Boy continues his impressive rise at the senior international level, approaching both his 21st birthday and his first Olympic Games this summer as his country's No. 2 all-arounder.

Born July 23, 1987, in Schwedt, Boy trains in Cottbus, where he is coached by 1996 Olympian Karsten Oelsch. He won the German junior all-around title in 2004 and 2005, and was part of the silver medal-winning German team at the 2004 European Junior Championships in Ljubljana.

In 2006 Boy placed third all-around at the German Championships; and 32nd all-around in preliminaries and seventh with his team at the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark.

In 2007 Boy placed third all-around at the German Championships, and 18th in the all-around final at the World Championships in Stuttgart. Also in Stuttgart, Boy helped the German men win their first Worlds team medal (a bronze, behind gold medalist China and silver medalist Japan) since 1991.

Boy's performances this far in the Olympic year of 2008 have been consistently successful. He finished second with his German teammates (behind Russia) at the European Championships in Lausanne; first all-around at the first German Olympic Trials; and second all-around to 2007 world all-around silver medalist Fabian Hambüchen at the German Championships, which doubled as the second German Olympic Trials. (Hambüchen did not compete in the first trials.)

In this IG Online interview, Boy details the motivation, challenges and personal growth that have defined his Olympic journey and his international career to date.

IG: Philipp, congratulations on being selected for Beijing. Between the Trials and the Games in August, on which areas of your gymnastics are you focusing?

PB: Thanks. As I'm an all-arounder, I put my complete attention on the all-around. That means to work on existing mistakes on all apparatus, and in the end to perfect my performances in order to present myself well at the Olympic Games, and also to help the team as much as possible.

IG: You were one of several promising junior gymnasts in Germany, some of whom have not advanced into the top senior group as you have. To what do you attribute the progress you have made, especially in the jump from junior to senior competition?

PB: That's right. I had a smooth transition from the juniors to the seniors - that means directly to the senior national team, and also to my first World Championships in Aarhus in 2006. I think there are many reasons for this. At the beginning of 2006 I still thought about quitting gymnastics for several reasons. However, maybe exactly that helped me towards the smooth transition. When I had overcome this "crisis" I had a motivation like never before, which helped me to get over cruel and rough times in training. After I'd been written off I wanted to show everyone how things are done and that they could count on me, actually more than ever.

And Fabian opened my eyes in a certain way, as he showed me that a German gymnast is also able to be internationally successful. That was an additional boost of motivation for me.

IG: At the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, your team won the bronze medal. What improvements has your team made, to finish at least third in Beijing, as well?

PB: Third place at the World Championships in Stuttgart was a sensation for German gymnastics, and not only for the German Gymnastics Federation, but also for us. Before these World Championships nobody would have reckoned that the Germans would be in one of the top ranks. It was an unforgettable experience for us all. And we don't expect to repeat this success again in Beijing. We want to reach the team final and then look further, like we did also in Stuttgart.

In 2000 the German team was in 10th position. In 2004 they reached the team final and got eighth place. So when we'll again manage to reach the team final and assuming that we get seventh place there, this already would be an improvement compared to the Olympic Games before, and thus already a success for us. It remains to be seen, as also the teams from the other countries are training hard!

IG: How realistic do you think a team gold or silver medal is for Germany in Beijing?

PB: Unlikely!

Boy (center) and his teammates won the team silver at the 2008 Europeans in Lausanne

IG: How do you balance the energy you need to achieve your personal goals for the Olympic Games, with the energy required to help the team achieve its goals?

PB: When I give the best for the team it's consequently also the best for myself. So there's no need to balance anything! No, seriously, I'll give the best for my team, as that's good for the team and myself. Here in Germany, mainly the team counts, and this is the reason why we're that successful. Everyone is there for each other as we all have one dream: "to win a precious medal at the Olympic Games." Team spirit is a really big thing for us.

IG: What are the "A" (Difficulty) scores you plan to achieve in Beijing?

PB: Umm...good question. Take it as a surprise!

IG: How have injuries impacted your motivation?

PB: I think my serious injuries in the past in a way were caused by my mentality. I've always been very impulsive, spontaneous and a hit-or-miss kind of person, and because of that I often didn't think about possible consequences which were caused by not training continuously. My body obviously didn't like this constant up and down! However, I think that, meanwhile, I was able to change this in a positive way, and I hope to be able to get through life with fewer injuries now.

Like I mentioned before, in the past I had a lot of problems with injuries, among them a shinbone and fibula fracture, surgery on my foot last year, and, after last year's World Championships, shoulder surgery.

In my opinion, any kind of injury has a distinctive effect on the character of a person. You see a lot of things with different eyes, and for me that certainly had a positive influence on my future development. No matter from which kind of compulsory break, I always managed to come back stronger than before. At the beginning you always live through some kind of down, and then you have to fight to get out of it again.

Philipp Boy

Also, the right environment is essential. You need people who motivate you again, and who you know stand behind you, no matter what could still happen. You need this support in order to start a comeback, and fortunately I had it!

I can only say that injuries were always a large setback for me but, nonetheless, I never had doubts about being able to get back into the international competitive scene again.

IG: You won the first German Olympic Trials, but Hambüchen did not compete. Hambüchen has also become known as the new icon of German gymnastics. How do you cope with the attention and success he has, so you avoid comparisons or feelings of jealousy?

PB: I grant Fabian the success, as he also has worked hard for it, and I'm not jealous at all. He only shows me where I, too, want to get to! Fabian shows me that it is possible to be successful, in various aspects, in a sport which isn't that popular. And that's my incentive to train even harder in order to reach this goal, too.

IG: We understand you intend to become a banker. What draws you to this line of work? And how good are you with your own money?

PB: Yes, that's right, too. After the Olympic Games I'll start professional training in the "Sparkasse Spree-Neisse," a bank in my region. I'm interested in everything concerning the topic of money. And where could you learn more about the trade with money, stocks, etc. than in a bank? Banking is a field full of variety, and that's the reason why I want to start a career in it.

I think I'm dealing with (my own money) quite well. I'm able to get along well with the financial resources which I have at my disposal!

IG: Going back in time, when and why did you choose gymnastics?

PB: I owe this to my mother. She was the one who sent me to gymnastics lessons at the age of almost 5. She thought my excess energy needed to be guided in the right direction, and she was convinced of gymnastics. Through this kind of sport you learn how to control your body. Let's face it, is there any kind of sport with which gymnasts aren't able to cope? I would have to think about it for a while in order to find one!

And you learn discipline, which has an important meaning if you want to be successful in today's society. I could mention many more things which gymnastics has taught me for my life, but I think that would go beyond the scope of this interview! In my opinion it's always a good decision when parents send their children to gymnastics lessons.

IG: Finally, how much longer beyond Beijing do you see yourself competing? At what age do you think you will be at your competitive peak?

PB: I definitely want to continue after Beijing, as I'm still at the beginning of my sports career. I certainly want to try to compete also in London 2012 (Olympic Games). "Try" — because you never know who moves up from the juniors or if my body continues to cope with competitive sports, etc. Anyway, my goal is the 2012 Olympic Games and maybe even 2016, if, as I mentioned before, my body copes with it. But one thing is certain: Gymnastics is getting more popular again!


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