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Category: Track and Field

Remembering track-and-field legends Hal Connolly, Scott Davis

Harold Connolly The sport of track and field -- and the sports world in general -- is far poorer today. Two track-and-field legends, Harold Connolly and Scott Davis, died Wednesday.

Scott Davis Connolly was an Olympic champion whose Cold War love story captivated the world in the days long before there were magazines and TV shows with the sole purpose of celebrating celebrity. And Davis did everything he could as a meet promoter, meet announcer, statistician and raconteur to celebrate his sport and its stars.  To those of us in the media, Davis was a bottomless font of knowledge and good cheer.

Read more: "Track and field loses two of its best: Hal Connolly, Scott Davis"

-- Philip Hersh, reporting for the Chicago Tribune

Photos, from left: Scott Davis in July 2010 at the World Junior Track & Field Championships in Moncton, Canada, where he was the event announcer. Credit: International Assn. of Athletics Federations. Harold Connolly at the 2006 unveiling of a statue in his honor at a middle school in Brighton, Mass., where he grew up. Credit: Connolly family photo

U.S. companies paying majority of Olympic freight again

By Philip Hersh

News and comment:

News:  U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor Proctor & Gamble will announce Wednesday it has become an International Olympic Committee global sponsor as well.

Comment:  Another plus for the USOC in its efforts to regain international favor -- especially if, as I suggested last week, it forgoes some or all of its share of the P&G and Dow Chemical deals to help resolve the longstanding revenue-sharing conflict with the IOC.

Coincidentally, with the addition of Dow two weeks ago, the majority of IOC global sponsors -- six of 11 -- will once again be U.S.-based multinationals.  So much for the irrational ranting of some European IOC members who try to minimize the significance of U.S. sponsors in the big picture. BMW

Even more significant:  Dow and P&G both are paying for their sponsorship in cash -- some $75 to $90 million over four years.  The other four USOC sponsors also pay primarily cash, while at least two international sponsors -- Atos Origin and Omega -- give the IOC all value-in-kind, and Acer gives primarily VIK.

It's also worth noting the USOC is the only country in the handful (Germany, France and Italy among them)  with individual IOC global sponsorship revenue-sharing deals that takes some of its share in VIK.

News:  Monday, BMW and the USOC finalized a six-year sponsorship deal worth a reported $24 million in cash.  The German carmaker is the first foreign auto company to sponsor U.S. Olympians.  It also is providing substantially lesser amounts of cash in six-year deals with four U.S. sports federations - track and field, swimming, speedskating and bobsled / skeleton.  Bobsled also will get some technological assistance.

Comment:  The USOC was left in the lurch in 2007 when General Motors, which was headed for bankruptcy, decided to end after 2008 a partnership that had existed since 1984.  GM paid the USOC about $5 million a year in cash, provided vehicles and spent $100 million in advertising on Olympic telecasts, according to Sports Business Daily.   BMW will not supply vehicles but its cash is welcome for a USOC facing an uncertain financial future after 2012.

News:  USA Track & Field's volunteer board of directors is turning an annual review of its salaried CEO, Doug Logan, into a power play that could result in his being forced out after barely two years in the job, according to both media reports and Tribune sources.

Comment:  Just another example of the old axiom that the only amateurs left in the Olympics are those running them.

The USATF board has apparently given Logan about a month to respond to criticism in three areas, including sponsorships, athlete relations and expenditures.  His answers may determine his future.

Dumping Logan without just cause likely would not sit too well with the USOC, which spent several years hectoring USA Track & Field to reform its governance -- that reform occurred in December, 2008 -- and telling the board to stop meddling in the federation's day-to-day affairs.

Sacramone1 It should be noted this is the third time in the past six years the USATF board has gone after the CEO.  It happened to Craig Masback in 2004 and 2007 -- and he resigned to join Nike in January, 2008.  That is the sort of meddling at issue.

And imagine how financially reckless it would be in these economic times for the board to fire Logan willy-nilly with an estimated $1 million -- and a severance fee -- left on a contract that expires in 2013.

When I spoke with him Monday, Logan referred any comment on his situation to USATF President Stephanie Hightower, an Ohio State grad who is the most decorated high hurdler in collegiate history.  When I reached her, Hightower declined to comment on a personnel matter.

News:  Star-crossed 2008 Olympian Alicia Sacramone made her post-Beijing return to competition in last Saturday's CoverGirl Classic at the UIC Pavilion. ( For my story on her comeback, click here.)

Comment:  Sacramone's return was a success, with victories in both events she entered, the beam and vault.  ``Now that it's over, it feels great,'' she said.   Sacramone will try to regain a spot on the national team at next month's U.S. Championship.

Photos: (Above) --  Olympic speedskating champion Apolo Anton Ohno on a BMW motorcycle during Monday's announcement of the German carmaker's sponsorship deal with the USOC and four U.S. sports federations (Associated Press / Evan Agostini); (Below) - Back on the beam:  Alicia Sacramone winning the event Saturday in her return to gymnastics competition after a two-year absence.  (courtesy USA Gymnastics / John Cheng)

Hurdles' great Allen Johnson exits the field

A few things have slipped by while I was working on other things.  Among them: Allen Johnson left competitive track and field at age 39.

If hardly anyone noticed when the high hurdler quietly announced his decision a couple weeks ago, that would be ironically fitting for a man whose career highlights -- an Olympic gold medal and four outdoor world titles -- always seemed to have been overshadowed by something else.

Read more: "Hurdles' great Allen Johnson: Gone, too often forgotten"

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Allen Johnson, second from left, wins the 110-meter hurdles at the 2003 world championships. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press

Hurdler Lolo Jones sees a different picture of herself in London Olympics


For four years after the 1996 Olympics, legendary Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj kept a photo on his bedroom wall of the fall in the 1,500-meter final that likely kept him from winning the race in Atlanta.  Haunted by the memory, El Guerrouj, the greatest miler in history, used it as motivation for an exorcism that eventually took place at the 2004 Summer Games, when he finally took home Olympic gold and became the second person -- after Finland's Paavo Nurmi in 1924 -- to win the 1,500 and 5,000 at the same Olympics.

U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones needs no such personal daily reminder of how she finished seventh in the high hurdles final at the 2008 Olympics.

When she runs in a televised meet in the United States, they replay the video of her stumbling over the penultimate 33-inch-high barrier with the gold medal almost in her grasp.  When she lines up for a start, no matter where, they nearly always introduce her as the "girl who was leading the Olympic race..."'

"You know they're not going to forget it; I'm not going to forget it,'' Jones said before winning her second U.S. high hurdles title Saturday before family and friends from her high school days in Des Moines. "So the only way to wash this away is to kind of fix what happened.''

People kept telling Jones, 27, the cleansing would begin at last year's world championships.  But she failed to make the U.S. team for that meet after locking arms with Michelle Perry going over the fourth hurdle in the semifinals at the 2009 nationals.  Thrown off-balance, Jones stopped running before the next hurdle.

Lolo2 "That was like two slaps in the face -- two major hits,'' she said,  "I'm like: 'There's no redemption. There's nothing.'  That's when people start saying: 'Maybe she still can't come back.  Maybe she'll never be on top again.'  I think I used all the hurts and the painful things as motivation to train.''

Her goal for 2010, a year without a major outdoor international championship for U.S. athletes, was a second straight world indoor title. Jones won that in March.

"I can't be sour about what has happened,'' she said. "I can only look at the positive sides of it.''

One came from the public reaction to how graciously she handled the Olympic defeat, congratulating her rivals and fighting through tears to handle media obligations. Several people sent e-mails to the customer service address of Asics, her shoe and equipment sponsor, saying how much Jones' behavior had inspired and impressed them.

That is why Asics never wavered in its decision to renew a contract with Jones that had expired after the 2008 Olympics.  Not only that, the company increased the contract in each of the upcoming four years (through the 2012 Olympics) by giving her part of what would have been the gold medal bonus.

"So there I [was], an athlete who just lost a gold medal, and the Olympics is our money-maker,'' Jones said. "Every four years, we have a chance to secure our future.

"I know of athletes who won medals and got cut" by their sponsors.  Asics "could have dropped me, but they didn't. For them to do that (re-sign her and add the bonus) was huge. I couldn't believe it.''

Said Ben Cesar, the Asics athletes' representative in the United States: "She could have easily thrown a tantrum or shunned the media [in Beijing], but instead she showed the world the kind of person she is.''

(Asics America, something of a "boutique'' shop in track and field -- 27 athletes, only one of whom, marathoner Deena Kastor, has won an Olympic or world outdoor medal --  was similarly magnanimous to Kara Patterson after she set a U.S. record in the javelin last week. It not only gave Patterson a contractual record bonus of $25,000 but also added that amount to her base contract for each of the next two years.  The Japanese sporting goods manufacturer seems to take seriously its adaptation of the Latin epigram that became the company name:  Anima sana in corpore sano -- ``a sound spirit in a sound body.'')

With her income guaranteed, Jones saw no reason to change anything about her training.  She stayed in Baton Rouge, La., to continue working with her college coach, LSU's Dennis Shaver.  She uses the same workouts as she did nine years ago as a college freshman.

Jones had the world's fastest time in 2008, was second in 2009 and is fastest so far this season.  But she has yet to get over the stumbling block of winning a medal at the Olympics or outdoor worlds.  She wonders if working with a sports psychologist might help.

"They're really expensive,'' Jones said.  "I need a sponsorship.  Any sports psychologists who want to work with an Olympic hurdler to get over the ninth hurdle, please contact me.''

She knows that hurdle will loom larger as the 2012 Olympics approach.  She thinks about the London Games several times a week. "I know that going into London, everybody is going to play up that sobby story,'' she said.  Lolo Jones gets the big picture without having to look at it every day.

-- Philip Hersh in Des Moines

Photos, from top: Lolo Jones looks in disbelief at the replay of the stumble that cost her Olympic gold; credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times;  Jones exults after winning the high hurdles Saturday at the U.S. Championships; credit: Charlie Niebergall / Associated Press

The Babe wasn't the last woman to win long jump-high jump double medals

When Chaunte Howard Lowe won the high jump and finished second in the long jump Saturday at the U.S. Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, I wrote that it was a rare double and that Lowe was "believed to be'' the first woman since Babe Didrikson in 1932 to win medals in both events at the national meet.

The "believed-to-be'' qualification was necessary because no one in the press box had access Saturday to records that would provide a definitive answer.

I have one now, thanks to statistical-historical guru Glen McMicken, as relentless and gracious a researcher of the sport's records as you could ever find.

Lowe And while few women indeed have attempted the double in the last few decades, Didrikson was not the most recent to win medals in both.

That distinction belongs to Pat Daniels, who finished third in both events at the nationals in 1964, back when there was both a U.S. Championship meet and an Olympic trials in Olympic years. The national meet was of decidedly lesser importance in such situations.

Lowe said Saturday that she is considering the double at next year's world championships.

Provided she qualifies for the U.S. team in both by finishing in the top three at the 2011 nationals, Lowe would have a favorable schedule at the world meet in Daegu, South Korea, in late August. The long jump is Aug. 27-28; the high jump is Sept. 1 and Sept. 3.

The risk, of course, would be an injury in the long jump that deprives Lowe of a chance to compete in the high jump, by far her better event.

Lowe has the two best high jumps in the world this year (setting a U.S record with each, the latter 6 feet 8 3/4 inches Saturday).  Her top long jump Saturday (22-7 3/4) makes her the fifth-best woman in that event this season -- and it would have been far enough to win a medal in the last six world meets.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Chaunte Howard Lowe became the first U.S. woman in 46 years to win long jump and high jump medals at the same national meet, and her U.S.-record high jump was worth the $25,000 top prize for best performance in the 2010 Visa Championship Series meets. Credit: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

U.S. strength with iron ball no one-shot deal


When a guy with a 6-foot-6, 320-pound body and an Olympic silver medal talks about creating a competitive monster, you figure he knows a little about the subject.

So you can take Christian Cantwell's word on how his success and that of veterans Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa have spawned a new generation of young giants for the United States in the shot put.

After all, no other country could boast of having a shot put field in its national championships like the one that heaved the iron ball Sunday at Drake Stadium:
  • The three 2008 Olympic team members -- Cantwell, 30 in September; Hoffa, 32; and Nelson, 35 next week -- who each won a gold medal at one of the last three outdoor World Championships.
  • The two twentysomethings, Corey Martin, 25, and Ryan Whiting, 23, who have, respectively, the second- and third-longest throws in the world this season (behind the leading Cantwell).
  • And Mason Finley, 19, a 6-8, 320-pound rising sophomore at Kansas who ranks 16th among the world's putters in 2010.

Whiting "Unfortunately, we're creating our own competitors,'' Cantwell said.  "There were always one or two young kids coming through; now there is a plethora. It's self-inflicting" for the veterans.

"But I ain't gonna let them take me down.  I may be old, but I ain't slow.''

That was apparent Sunday when reigning world champ Cantwell won his third U.S. title and had five of the six longest throws in the competition, topped by a heave of 71 feet, 1/2 inch -- and still was bummed over not breaking the meet record of 72 feet, 11 inches.

"To throw 21.65 [meters] today and be disappointed, that's a good life,'' Cantwell said. "There were times when I'd take a 21.65 and be tickled pink.''

Hoffa and Nelson aren't ready to step aside yet, either.  They finished 2-3 Sunday, each with his best throw of the season, 69-11 3/4 and 68-4 1/2.

Martin was fourth at 67-8, nearly 5 feet under his 2010 best. Whiting, who earlier this month won a second straight NCAA title in the shot for Arizona State, took fifth at 67-7 1/2, some 4 feet off his season best.  And Finley, the recent NCAA runner-up, was eighth at 64-9 1/4, 4 feet under his season best.

"These [young] guys are phenomenal,'' said Nelson, a two-time Olympic silver medalist.  "They are throwing distances I couldn't have dreamed of at their age.''

But the event becomes more mental than physical in the noncollegiate arena, which means more experience in big competitions is crucial.  No shot putter in the 2008 Olympic finals was younger than 26.

"They are still trying to figure out how to compete at this level, against bigger people throwing farther,'' Nelson said. "You've got to go execute every time.''

Cantwell, a three-time world indoor champion, had a related point of view about the transition from college.

"When you're a professional, everyone likes you but nobody is going to hold your hand and try to help you out,'' Cantwell said. "You lose that [support), and you have to find it in a different place.''

The younger U.S. throwers are stepping into an environment in which their countrymen have regained their world dominance during the two decades since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany.

From 1983 through 1991, when the outdoor worlds were quadrennial, U.S. shot putters won just one bronze medal at the meet; in the nine biennial world meets beginning with 1993, the U.S. record is six gold, four silver, two bronze.

"I've been in this game almost 10 years, and I think it's time to let the younger generation have a chance,'' Hoffa said.

But it was clear Hoffa doesn't want that time to come soon.

If he and Nelson retire as expected after 2012, Hoffa noted, Cantwell and Dan Taylor, 28, the 2009 U.S. runner-up, still should be around.

"That will push the younger guys ... into the 2016 Olympics,'' Hoffa said.

-- Philip Hersh in Des Moines

Photos: Christian Cantwell on Sunday at the U.S. Championships, top; Credit: Andy Lyons / Getty Images.  Ryan Whiting winning a second straight NCAA title; Credit: Greg Wahl-Stephens / Associated Press 

In one lap, Tyson Gay shows history-making health

Tyson Gay achieved something remarkable when he ran the 400 meters in under 45 seconds two weeks ago in Gainesville, Fla.

With a time of 44.89, Gay became the only person to break 45 seconds in the 400, 20 seconds in the 200 (personal best: 19.58, 2009) and 10 seconds in the 100 (personal best: 9.69, 2009).

But what made the race really significant for the leading U.S. sprinter is that it showed Gay, 26, is back in top form after surgery last October to fix a chronic groin injury.

"I'm 100% in my recovery,'' Gay said during a Thursday teleconference. "The last time I was injury-free was 2006."

Gay said his fast 400 -- .68 seconds better than his previous personal best -- came "by accident.  I hadn't done any training in spikes or speed work or block starts. It was amazing."

Tyson Even though Gay intends to keep his focus on the 100 and 200, the events in which he won 2007 world titles, he will keep running the occasional 400, with the aim of some day earning a spot on a U.S. 4 x 400 team for a major championship.

"I've always had it in me to run a great 400,'' said Gay, a Tennessee prep champion in the one-lap race. "But I never liked doing it. And my high school coach always told me that if I showed my [college] coach I could run it, I would never get to run the 100 again. That's why I shied away from it, because I like running the 100.''

His next 400 is Saturday at the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston. 

"I'm actually nervous," Gay said of Saturday's race. "When I ran the 400 a couple weeks ago, it was at a small track meet and not a lot of pressure. I have a lot of professional athletes in this race."

(The field includes Renny Quow of Trinidad and Tobago, the 2009 world bronze medalist at 400.) 

Gay is running 400s this season to build strength and test his groin before returning to the short sprints. He may run the 100 against Jamaica's Usain Bolt at the June 12 Adidas Grand Prix event in New York.

It was at that meet two years ago that Bolt set a world record in the 100 and began to run away from his competition at that distance and the 200, both of which he won in a rout at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships.

Some of Bolt's dominance has been credited to his one-in-a-million combination of foot speed and the enormous stride length that comes from being 6-foot-5.

"It's just unfortunate that he is taller than me," Gay said. "It actually allows me to look at myself as being a great talent, able to run close to his time [despite] only being 5-foot-11. He has the turnover and the stride length. I have the turnover, but I can't cover as much ground. There's nothing I can do about that."

Gay insists he is not frustrated by having gone from world champion to one of those futilely chasing Bolt.  Last year at the world championships, Gay lowered his 100 personal best from 9.77 to 9.71, only to be crushed by Bolt's world record 9.58.

"It's a huge motivational factor," Gay said of racing Bolt. "This is something the sport needs. It wouldn't be track and field without Usain Bolt. I'm very thankful he's running the times he is running, because they are just pushing me harder.''

Gay hopes that the drop in his 400 time will correlate to a drop in the 200, in which he also ran a personal best last year.

The 400 has taken on a strange dynamic this year after reigning world and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt of the U.S. admitted last week to having tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid contained in a penile enhancement product Merritt said he had taken. It was yet another blow for a U.S. track program that cannot seem to escape having some of its biggest stars nailed for doping.

Asked if he were disappointed over having another big U.S. name sullied by doping, Gay said, "I've known LaShawn Merritt since he came on a visit to the University of Arkansas, and to me that's just not his character. I'm just shocked right now. Hopefully, everything comes out OK."

One of the defrocked 100-meter stars, Justin Gatlin, 28, is eligible to return July 24 after serving a four-year suspension for steroid use. Gatlin was 2004 Olympic champion in the 100 and 2005 world champion in the 100 and 200.  In his absence, first Gay and then Bolt ascended to the top of world sprinting.

"I haven't thought about Gatlin at all," Gay said. "I think it is going to be very tough for him to be in the fitness he was in before he left."

Bolt, who lost to Gatlin in the 200 final at the 2005 worlds, had expressed a similar opinion in a teleconference last week.

"It is going to be very hard to come back from that [layoff] and compete against us because the intensity of the competitions is getting harder," Bolt said. "I don't look forward to running with any one person. If he comes back and I compete against him, I have no problem with it.''

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Tyson Gay runs in the 2009 Golden Gala meet in Rome. Credit: Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press

Merritt, Olympic 400-meter champion, faces two-year suspension for substance found in male enhancement product ExtenZe [updated]

Reigning Olympic and world 400-meter track champion LaShawn Merritt faces a two-year suspension for what he said was use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product that he did not know contained the banned substance DHEA.

Merritt, 23, of Portsmouth, Va., was found positive for DHEA, a steroid, in three successive out-of-competition tests from October through January.

He called his use of the product a "foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.''

Doug Logan, the chief executive of USA Track & Field, said via telephone that Merritt had "sullied his career and put an unfortunate stigma on himself he is going to be living down the rest of his life."

Merritt has decided to accept a provisional suspension and not compete until his case is resolved. That would mean he would miss the 2010 season unless he asks for an expedited hearing.

His attorney, Howard Jacobs, said via telephone that Merritt has yet to decide about seeking quicker resolution of the case.

Merritt apologized for his mistake in the Thursday release from Jacobs that revealed the positive tests.

"To know I have tested positive as a result of a product I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,'' Merritt said in the statement. "I hope my sponsors, family, friends and the sport itself will forgive me for making such a foolish, immature and egotistical mistake.

"Any penalty I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation I feel.''

Jacobs said Merritt's appeal would be based on the "exceptional circumstances rule -- no fault or no significant fault.''

The three tests will be treated as a single positive. By accepting the provisional suspension in early April, any ban would begin from that date rather than a later date if Merritt had decided to keep competing.

Logan said Merritt’s admission "indicates an extraordinary lack of maturity and an absence of the responsibility necessary to be a world-class athlete. We are disgusted by this.

"This is not frivolous. It is something he selfishly did, as he acknowledges. This young man is going to find himself the object of a lot of unnecessary jokes."

In the statement, Merritt admitted he had not read the "fine print" on the product, which the Tribune has learned was ExtenZe.

Such lack of knowledge is generally not a viable defense in doping cases.

[Updated at 2:38 p.m.: DHEA is the third substance listed on the ingredients page of the company website. It is listed by both its common name, DHEA, and scientific name, dehydroepiandrosterone, on both the ExtenZe list and the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances.

Logan dismissed the idea of inadvertent use as an excuse in a statement issued by USA Track & Field.

"Any professional athlete in this sport knows that they are solely responsible for anything that goes into their bodies," he said. "For Mr. Merritt to claim inadvertent use of a banned substance due to the ingestion of over-the-counter supplements brings shame to himself and his teammates. Thanks to his selfish actions, he has done damage to our efforts to fight the plague of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport."

Merritt, who also won 4 x 400-meter relay gold medals at the 2008 Olympics and both the 2007 and 2009 world championships, had urine samples taken in October, December and January.

According to the statement from his attorney, Merritt did not learn of the positives until March.]

-- Philip Hersh

IOC may investigate Crystal Cox's doping admission

That didn't take long...

Less than a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced relay runner Crystal Cox had admitted to doping during the 2004 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee said it's considering opening an investigation into the matter.

An IOC spokesman said Monday that it is "considering setting up a disciplinary commission" to determine the fate of the women's 4X400-relay team that won the gold medal in Athens. The ruling council of the International Assn. of Athletics Federations also plans to tackle the issue at its meeting in March.

Cox, who accepted a four-year ban from competition and a disqualification of all her results from 2001 through 2004, will almost certainly be stripped of her gold medal. However, because Cox ran in the preliminaries and not the finals, it remains to be seen if her Olympic teammates will lose their medals.

Three U.S. relay teams were stripped of their medals from the 2000 Olympic Games because of doping. An entire team can be disqualified if one of its competitors -- even an alternate -- is found guilty of doping.

-- Austin Knoblauch

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sprinter Crystal Cox suspended; relay team could lose gold medals

American sprinter Crystal Cox agreed today to a four-year suspension and a disqualification of her previous results after she admitted to doping during the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Cox will probably lose the gold medal she was awarded for being part of the 1,600-meter relay team in Athens. Because Cox ran in the preliminaries and not the final, it is unclear whether Olympic officials will strip the entire team of its medals. Sanya Richards, DeeDee Trotter, Monique Henderson and Monique Hennagan ran in the final.

Marion Jones' teammates from the 2000 Olympic Games lost their gold medals after she admitted to doping.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Executive Travis Tygart applauded Cox for coming clean.

"You've got to give her credit for accepting responsibility," he said. "Hopefully this sends a strong message that if you're going to succumb to temptation, you have to remember the terrible position you're putting your teammates in."

Cox is suspended through January 2014 and will forfeit all of her results from 2001 to 2004.

-- Austin Knoblauch


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