CHINA did not enter its best and yet finished on top of the medals standings in the 14th Asian athletic championships in Colombo. Those who felt that there has been a slump in Chinese athletics standards the past few years will surely have a second thought coming in the Busan Asian Games context.
Japan, normally not in strength at the continental meet, fielded a fairly strong team this time, while India, second in the medal count two years ago, kept its best wrapped up in camps in Ukraine and Belarus. And paid the penalty. India had just one gold to show with its second-string team, that too from a scratch 4x400m relay combination.
Everyone seemed to be preparing for the Asian Games and, in that perspective, performance-levels dipped barring in a few field events. On the track, close-to-par standards were witnessed only in those events where the competition was intense, like in the men's 400 metres. The sprinters suffered since almost throughout the championships a stiff head-wind greeted them.
"I hope the winds will not be there in Busan," commented Susanthika Jayasinghe. She was the toast of the whole of Sri Lanka, cornering the sprint double in the most authoritative fashion. With Damayanthi Darsha pulling out of the individual events, because of a hamstring injury, the spotlight was fully on Susanthika. She did not disappoint.
Susanthika's performances were in keeping with her status as one of the leading sprinters of the world. She had come into these championships with a 11.08 for the short dash at the Commonwealth Games and once she got going in the heats it was clear that the others will be hard put to match strides with her.
In the event, Susanthika won in 11.29 in the 100 metres, a leeway of 0.27 from Chinese Qin Wangping and 22.84 in the 200 metres, a margin of over five metres and a difference of 0.92s from the second-placed Lyubov Perepelova of Uzbekistan. Incidentally, her 22.84 equalled Darsha's championship record.
Susanthika felt that it would have been great had Darsha been there. She also felt that the controversy relating to fresh relay trials and subsequent dropping of Darsha and Sriyani Kulawansa from the sprint relay team had taken some toll of her, mentally. She did not show that really in her running, though.
Susanthika apart, there were two others who scored the double, North Korean woman distance runner Ham Bong Sil and Qatari steeplechaser Khamis Sief Abdullah. Another man, Kuwaiti Fawzi Al-Shammari failed narrowly in his quest for a double, the 200-400 combination.
The North Koreans make only periodic appearances even at the Asian level. As such, Ham Bong Sil, who clocked a National mark of 2:26:23 while winning the Pyongyang marathon this season, was a relatively unheralded runner at the Colombo meet. A thin field in the 10,000 metres and her own reserves of stamina in a slow race in the 5000 metres, helped Ham Bong Sil comfortably cruise home for the double. She could be a threat to the Chinese and the Japanese at Busan if she is entered in the track events there.
For Khamis Abdullah, this was the second Asian championship. The 26-year-old Qatari had a fight on his hands in the steeplechase with Asian record holder, Slaaad Shaddad Al-Asmari, on some sort of a comeback, threatening to dominate the event from the half-way stage. From then on, it was a two-horse race with the rest nearly 100 metres behind. On the final backstraight, Abdullah started pulling away with the Saudi Arabian in close pursuit but on the straight, the Qatari had a final 'kick' left.
"Old man now. I didn't have the pace on the straight," said Al-Asmari, trying to console himself rather than making a matter-of-fact statement. But then, at 34, Al-Asmari might not have much left in him, though he could be expected to stage a last-ditch battle in Busan.
"Past 30 you do lose something," was how metric mile record holder, Mohamed Suleiman put it, in a different context at Colombo.
Plagued by injuries, including a serious one of the groin, Al-Asmari had undergone surgeries in 1999 and was still troubled by a stress fracture last year. But this year, he was right back in contention, clocking an Asian record of 8:08.14 at Stockholm, the very same venue where he set his previous record of 8:08.26.
The Saudi was expected to renew the battle with Khamis Abdullah in the 5000 metres, but pulled out, probably tired after his steeplechase effort and perhaps not prepared to stake his reputation against a man who was in form. Abdullah did not have much trouble in completing the double.
One Asian record was bettered, that by Chinese Gu Yuan in the women's hammer throw, seven championship records updated, including the 8:16.0 by Khamis Abdullah in steeplechase, and one equalled, in the meet. Technically, the women's 20km walk gold-winning time will also go in as a new meet record since the event was being held for the first time.
Gu Yuan's hammer mark should have set the tempo for the four-day meet since it came on the opening day. Sadly, there were not many performances during subsequent days which came close to the continental records. Still, the efforts of Murofushi, Qatari discus thrower Rashid Shafi Al-Dosari and Chinese javelin thrower Li Rongxiang should be rated high since they were closer to world standards.
In fact, keeping tabs on two other continental championships going on at around the same time - the European meet in Munich and the African championships in Tunis - Murofushi wanted to go one better than what was recorded in Munich.
The Japanese hammer thrower failed in that attempt - Adrian Annus of Hungary had reached 81.17 in the Euros - but his 80.45m was an excellent effort all the same. It was a championship record bettering the 76.67 that Andrey Abduvaliyev had achieved in Kuala Lumpur in 1991. Since winning the World championship silver last year, Murofushi has moved into the consistent 80-plus bracket from the 70m range.
This was, strangely, his first gold medal in the Asian meet. He had won the silver in 1993, on his debut, and in 1995, both behind Chinese Bi Zhong. In 1998, at home, in Fukuoka, it was silver again, behind Abduvaliyev who then represented Uzbekistan after having moved from his home, Tajikistan. Two years ago, in Jakarta, neither Murofushi nor Abduvaliyev competed.
Murofushi felt that as a world-rated competitor it was his duty to participate in the Asian meet in order to give it the boost it badly required. Such noble thoughts from others, especially the Chinese and the Indians, would have indeed helped this meet raise itself from the routine to international standards. But then, that is a topic which the Asian Athletics Association (AAA) should be handling in the months to come.
Gu Yuan was one of the few former champions from China who made it to Colombo. The 1998 hammer winner produced a string of excellent throws to completely dominate the field. It was, however, a little surprising that team-mate Wang Xiaoyu came only fourth with a best of 57.00. In the season's charts Wang Xiaoyu was above even Gu Yuan, with a 62.83. With a 70.92 on her third and then 71.10, Gu Yuan bettered the Asian mark twice over. The previous record stood in the name of team-mate Liu Yinghui who threw 68.06 at Shanghai in May this year.
Qatar has taken rapid strides into areas where it did not have even a mere presence in the past. A case in point was the gold in a championship record of 64.43 in discus by 21-year-old Rashid Shafi Al-Dosari. This was easily the best for the year also, with Chinese Wu Tao and Al-Dosari himself topping the charts till then with 62-plus efforts.
Touching another season's best in Asia was Chinese javelin thrower Li Rongxiang. He has had a mixed bag this season, but the 30-year-old Chinese came up with an 82.75 on his third attempt to outclass the field in Colombo. Uzbek Sergey Voynov who came second, had held the best for the season, 81.25 at Bangkok in an Asian Grand Prix meet, till then.
A championship record also accrued in the men's 400-metre hurdles event, but the excitement was missing in this event when Saudi Arabian Haadi Soua'an Al-Somaily, the Olympic silver medallist, withdrew at the last moment. Japanese Dai Tamesue was not there in the entry lists anyway and that left the task of Qatari Sultan Mubarak Al-Nubi that much easier. The Qatari who had won in 1995 and 1998, clocked 48.67s bettering his own 1998 mark of 48.71s.
Qatar ended up with eight golds to China's 10, to be second in the overall medals standings. Ahmed Ibrahim Warsama took the 10,000m in effortless style, though in the poorest time in championship's history while Saad Bilal Mubarak, as expected added another gold, in shot put, touching 19.2 on his opening throw.
Then there was Abdulrahman Suleiman, just back from the World junior championships in Kingston where he had taken the silver, stretching a family tradition in the 1500 metres. Elder brother Mohamed Suleiman, the best middle distance runner Asia had seen, was there as the manager of the Qatari team and was overjoyed when Abdulrahman completed a tactical win over Bahrain's Rachid Mohammed Ramzi and team-mate Jamal Noor Youssef.
"I am proud to have kept up a 12-year-old family tradition," said the younger Suleiman. Another brother, Nasser Ahmed, managed a bronze in the 5000 metres.
Jamal Abdul Al-Saffar of Saudi Arabia is thrilled after retaining the men's 100m gold.
The surprise gold for Qatar was provided by decathlete Ahmad Hassan Moussa who cashed in on the withdrawal of Chinese youngster Qi Haifeng. The 19-year-old Chinese who has two tallies of over 8000 points from last year and this season, led with 7224 points after nine events but pulled out from the last event, 1500m, due to an injury suffered during the javelin.
China once again showed that its strength lay in the women's section and in particular the throws. Seven of its 10 gold medals came from the women, with three of the four throws titles in the kitty. The one that China missed was in shot put, with Thai Juthaporn Krasaeyan winning with a modest 18.05. Fourteen of the top 15 Asian marks this season, before Colombo, belonged to the Chinese. Krasaeyan had the 15th. Li Yanfeng (discus) and Ma Ning (javelin with meet record of 57.15m) were the Chinese gold winners in throwing events.
Gao Shuying, the Asian record holder in pole vault, who set a championship best, along with Japanese Masumi Ono, at 4.20, and walker Gao Kelian provided two other Chinese gold medals in the women's section. The others came through triple jumper Wu Lingmei and the sprint relay team.
It was literally a two-horse race between Qatar's Khamis Sief Abdullah (red) and Saudi Arabia's Saad Shaddad Al-Asmari in the steeplechase. The Qatari, who triumphed in the end, also took the 5000m gold.
In the men's section, Liu Xiang, who set an Asian record of 13.12s in Lausanne in July, was an easy winner and said that he was confident of winning the Asian Games gold as well. The other expected gold, apart from the one in javelin, came from high jumper Cui Kai. He was the leader, at 2.24, going into this meet, but would have been stretched had veteran Korean Lee Jin-Taek, three-time winner, been there.
Contests that were expected to provide the fireworks on the track, like the men's 400m or the men's sprints, to match the extravagant show during the opening ceremony, did not really come up to the expected levels.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe (second from right) along with the AAA President Suresh Kalmadi (third from right) and other delegates at the Opening Ceremony.
Fawzi Dahesh Al-Shammari of Kuwait lived up to his pre-meet billing as he won the 400 metres from Saudi Hamdan O. Al-Bishi and Sri Lankan Sugath Tillakeratne. The 23-year-old Kuwaiti's power over the home straight proved far too superior. He had a shy at the 200m gold as well but Kazak Gennadiy Chernovol beat him to it.
The men's dash, into a headwind of 3.1m/s, provided average timings, 10.43 for the winner, Jamal Abdul Al-Saffar, who retained the title and 10.50 for Chernovol. His Saudi team-mate, Salem Mubarak Al-Yami who had beaten Jamal earlier this season, was third in 10.52.Performance by a Sri Lankan music troupe.
Saudi Arabia, with three golds was one gold short of last time, but retained its fifth position behind China, Qatar, Kazakhstan and Japan. Kazakhstan had an impressive haul of six gold medals, though at least in one, the women's 400m won by Tatyna Roslanova, India or Sri Lanka would have surely denied the Central Asian Republic its success. But then K. M. Beenamol was away fine-tuning herself for the Busan Games and Darsha was reluctant to blow her Asiad chances by risking a hamstring injury.Men:
100m: 1. Jamal Abdul Al-Saffar (KSA) 10.43; 2. Gennadiy Chernovol (KAZ) 10.50; 3. Salem Mubarak Al-Yami (KSA) 10.52.
200m: 1. Gennadiy Chernovol (KAZ) 20.73; 2. Fawzi D. Al-Shammari (KUW) 20.92; 3. Sittichai Suwornprateep (THA) 21.04.
400m: 1. Fawzi D. Al-Shammari (KUW) 45.21; 2. Hamdan O. Al-Bishi (KSA) 45.43; 3. Sugath Tillakeratne (SRI) 45.73.
800m: 1. Mikhail Kolganov (KAZ) 1:48.91; 2. Salem Amer Al-Badri (QAT) 1:48.95; 3. Abdu Adam Ali Adam (QAT) 1:49.25.
Schoolchildren dancing to a tune, holding balloons, during the Opening Ceremony.
1500m: 1. Abdulrahman Suleiman (QAT) 3:45.98; 2. Rachid Ramzi (BRN) 3:46.41; 3. Jamal Noor Youssef (QAT) 3:46.85.
5000m: 1. Khamis Sief Abdullah (QAT) 14:16.81; 2. Abdulhak Zakaria (BRN) 14:19.92; 3. Nasser Ahmed Suleiman (QAT) 14:19.97.
10,000m: 1. Ahmed Ibrahim Warsama (QAT) 30:19.62; 2. Aman Majid Awad (QAT) 30:21.65; 3. Jagannath Lakade (IND) 30:39.44.
3000m steeplechase: 1. Khamis Abdullah (QAT) 8:16.0; 2. Saad Shaddad Al-Asmari (KSA) 8:16.7; 3. Abubaker Kamal Ali (QAT) 8:37.4.
110m hurdles: 1. Liu Xiang (CHN) 13.56; 2. Mubarak Ata Mubarak (KSA) 13.96; 3. Faiz Mohammed (MAS) 14.33.
400m hurdles: 1. Sultan Mubarak Al-Nubi (QAT) 48.67 NMR; 2. Hideaki Kawamura (JPN) 48.85; 3. Yevgeniy Meleshenko (KAZ) 49.56.
High jump: 1. Cui Kai (CHN) 2.19; 2. Salem Nasser Bakheet (BRN) 2.15; 3. Loo Kum Zee (MAS) 2.15.
Pole vault: 1. Daichi Sawano (JPN) 5.40; 2. Kim Se In (KOR) 5.40; 3. Grigoriy Yegorov (KAZ) 5.20.
Long jump: 1. Hussein Taher Al-Sabee (KSA) 8.09; 2. Cai Xiaobao (CHN) 7.95w; 3. Huang Le (CHN) 7.91w.
Triple jump: 1. Salem Mouled Al-Ahmadi (KSA) 16.61; 2. Kazuyoshi Ishikawa (JPN) 16.42; 3. Abdul Aziz Mohammed (QAT) 16.18.
Shot put: 1. Saad Bilal Mubarak (QAT) 19.22; 2. Navpreet Singh (IND) 18.97; 3. Kim Jae Li (PRK) 17.98.
Discus: 1. Rashid Shafi Al-Dosari (QAT) 64.43 NMR; 2. Abbas Samimi (IRI) 60.49; 3. Nuermaimaiti Tulake (CHN) 60.39.
Hammer: 1. Koji Murofushi (JPN) 80.45 NMR; 2. Hiroaki Doi (JPN) 70.27; 3. Viktor Ustinov (UZB) 69.25.
Javelin: 1. Li Rongxiang (CHN) 82.75 NMR; 2. Sergey Voynov (UZB) 79.70; 3. Pak Jae-Myong (KOR) 79.22.
Decathlon: 1. Ahmad Hassan Moussa (QAT) 7670; 2. Pavel Andreyev (UZB) 7428; 3. Takuro Hirata (JPN) 7344.
4x100m: 1. Thailand (Sittichai Suwornprateep, Ekkachai Juntana, Visano Sphanich, Reanchai Sihawong) 38.99; 2. Saudi Arabia (Khalifa Al Sagar, Salem Al Yami, Mubarak Mubarak, Jamal Al Saffar) 39.16; 3. Qatar (Mohd Sultan Al Sheeb, Khalid Yousuf Al-Obaidi, Abdullah Khamis Al Hamad, Khalid Habash Al Suwaidi) 39.39.
4x400m: 1. Sri Lanka (Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Ranga Wimalawansa, Prasanna Amarasekara, Sugath Tillakeratne) 3:03.35; 2. India (Satbir Singh, K. Suresh, Anil Kumar Rohil, Jata Shankar) 3:06.76; 3. Japan (Suguru Matsumoto, Yukihiro Mukai, Yoshihiro Chiba, Hideaki Kawamura) 3:07.09.
20km walk: 1. Eiichi Yoshizawa (JPN) 1:26:51; 2. Toshihito Fujinohara (JPN) 1:28.06; 3. Shin Il Young (KOR) 1:31.07.Women:
100m: 1. Susanthika Jayasinghe (SRI) 11.29; 2. Qin Wangping (CHN) 11.56; 3. Lyubov Perepelova (UZB) 11.60.
200m: 1. Susanthika Jayasinghe (SRI) 22.84 EMR; 2. Lyubov Perepelova (UZB) 23.76; 3. Yan Jiankui (CHN) 23.85.
400m: 1. Tatyana Roslanova (KAZ) 52.61; 2. Zanura Amireva (UZB) 53.87; 3. Nguyen Thi Tinh (VIE) 54.57.
800m: 1. Miho Sugimori (JPN) 2:03.59; 2. Tatyana Borisova (KGZ) 2:03.67; 3. Zanura Amireva (UZB) 2:04.48.
1500m: 1. Tatyana Borisova (KGZ) 4:16.27; 2. Svetlana Lukasheva (KAZ) 4:18.63; 3. Mizuho Nasukawa (JPN) 4:19.27.
5000m: 1. Ham Pong Sil (PRK) 15:42.88; 2. Akiko Kawashima (JPN) 15:44.08; 3. Mizuho Nasukawa (JPN) 16:24.63.
10,000m: 1. Ham Pong Sil (PRK) 34:44.92; 2. Jo Pun Hui (PRK) 35:00.63; 3. Aruna Devi (IND) 35:38.70.
100m hurdles: 1. Yvonne Kanazawa (JPN) 13.40; 2. Sriyani Kualawansa (SRI) 13.43; 3. Trecia Roberts (THA) 13.60.
High jump: 1. Tatiana Efimenko (KGZ) 1.92; 2. Bobby Aloysius (IND) 1.84; 3. Marina Korzhova (KAZ) 1.84.
Pole vault: 1. Gao Shuying (CHN) 4.20 NMR; 2. Masumi Ono (JPN) 4.20; 3. Desy Margawati (INA) 4.10.
Long jump: 1. Yelena Kashcheyeva (KAZ) 6.61; 2. Elmira Lerma Gabito (PHI) 6.40; 3. Marestella Torres (PHI) 6.40.
Triple jump: 1. Wu Lingmei (CHN) 13.83; 2. Mariya Sokova (UZB) 13.81; 3. Yelena Parfenova (KAZ) 13.11.
Shot put: 1. Juthaporn Krasaeyan (THA) 18.05; 2. Cheng Xiaoyan (CHN) 17.39; 3. Sumi Ichioka (JPN) 16.12.
Discus: 1. Li Yanfeng (CHN) 60.06; 2. Harwant Kaur (IND) 57.60; 3. Swaranjit Kaur (IND) 55.05.
Hammer: 1. Gu Yuan (CHN) 71.10 AR; 2. Huang Chih-Feng (TPE) 58.19; 3. Hardeep Kaur (IND) 57.82.
Javelin: 1. Ma Ning (CHN) 57.15 NMR; 2. Xue Juan (CHN) 56.04; 3. Lee Young Sun (KOR) 53.72.
Heptathlon: 1. Svetlana Kazanina (KAZ) 5841; 2. J. J. Shobha (IND) 5775; 3. Wang Hailan (CHN) 5635.
4x100m: 1. China (Ni Xiaoli, Yan Jiankui, Huang Mei, Qin Wangping) 43.94; 2. Uzbekistan (Guzel Khubbieva, Anza Kazakova, Ludmila Dmitriadi, Lyubov Pepepelova) 44.85; 3. Thailand (Trecia Roberts, Oramoch Klom Dee, Supawadee Khawpeag, Juthamass Thawonchavoen) 44.89.
4x400m: 1. India (Sagardeep Kaur, Soma Biswas, Sunita Dahiya, J. J. Shobha) 3:37.48; 2. Japan (Miho Sugimori, Mayu Kida, Sakie Nobuoka, Makiko Yoshida) 3:38.29; 3. Sri Lanka (Menike Wickramasinghe, K. L. L. Gunawardana, Edirisinghe Suwarnamali, Damayanthi Darsha) 3:42.71.
20km walk: 1. Gao Kelian (CHN) 1:36.57; 2. Jian Xingli (CHN) 1:37:02; 3. Ryoko Tadamas (JPN) 1:42:43.
OPINIONS do vary when it comes to assessing the organisation of a continental championship. Someone will feel that they were the best, some others might say they were the worst. It always depends on which side of the fence you are. Yet, when an international 'expert' and a neutral observer gives a clean chit to an organising committee and calls it the 'best championships ever', it is time to step in and tell your side of the story.
Bjorn Wangemann, a Director of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was the 'expert' quoted by the official championships website to state that these championships were the best ever from an organisational point of view.
Since we cannot question the parameters by which Wangemann assessed the championships, we will only try to present the championships the way we saw it. Or the way we failed to see!To begin with, there was no Press box!
If there was one, we were not told about it nor could we spot it. We did have a working area, what the local officials called the 'sub press centre'. We were asked to sit there, watch athletics and do our reports. Sort of two-in-one, you could say. We were six reporters from India plus four photographers. There were about half a dozen local reporters, too. Most of the local journalists, we came to know later, were forced to wander about much of the time.
The sub press centre, a glass cage which could at best have seated around 25 to 30 people, was crammed with equipment and people who had no business to be there. The men in charge of information and results systems were occupying the computer terminals meant for the Press. This despite the fact that there was a computer section at the adjacent room and there were about 20 men working there.
Then there were curious onlookers, all of them with some accreditation card or the other. At any given time there were about 80 to 100 people coming in and going out of that room. But getting disturbed was only part of the problem. We could not see much of what was going on in front. From where we operated the 100m stretch could not be seen as one full straight. It had to be watched in segments! Forget viewing the full 400 metres.
There was only one 21-inch TV monitor inside the sub press centre. The electronic scoreboards were mere decorations. A track-side timer made its appearance only on the second day while scoreboards at the field events were either operated haphazardly or were non-existent.
The cramped working area and the cacophony forced at least a couple of us to shift to the main Press centre at the nearby indoor stadium on the second day. There was plenty of space there, but the ear-shattering sound emanating from the adjacent hall - a music festival was going on for the benefit of the athletes and delegates - and incessant chatter from within, made us wonder whether we had made the wisest of moves. To add to our woes, the main press centre, shockingly, did not have IDD phone lines. Nor was there any provision to provide results speedily.
With just one photo-copying machine available at the sub press centre, there was always a mad rush to get the latest results. There was no method in announcing that a result was being withdrawn or to suggest that a particular set of results was being revised.
Just one example will suffice. In the men's 3000 steeplechase, Saudi Arabian Sa'ad Shaddad Al-Asmari was at first put down as the winner with a time of 8:09.67, followed by Qatari Khamis Abdullah at 8:10.34. Much after international agencies had filed their flash reports with Al-Asmari as the winner, came a revised list. Abdullah was the winner, as he should have been, with a time of 8:15.80, Al-Asmari was second at 8:16.00.
One would have thought that the story of the steeplechase had ended there. But no, there was one more version, which we now have to accept as the final official one. The results were credited as hand-timings in the consolidated official results booklet. Abdullah had 8:16.0 and Al-Asmari 8:16.7.
We also found after the championships that the men's 10,000m timings were 'changed' to electronic after we were given and had reported a set of hand-timings with the winner, Qatari Ahmed Ibrahim being timed at 30:31.5, second-placed Awad Majid 30:33.5 and Indian Jagannath Lakade 30:51.2. The official time for the winner finally stood at 30:19.62, with Majid at 30:21.65 and Lakade 30:39.44.
To our horror we noticed that Chinese Qi Haifeng had 'disappeared' in the final standings of the decathlon after having led at the end of nine events. Had he pulled out, was he disqualified for some reason or did he fail to finish the 1500 metres?
With the closing ceremony having moved towards a climax and with people already in the mood to pack up and enjoy the rest of the evening, it was almost impossible to check up. But eventually we managed and found that there was a DNS (did not start) in one of the sheets against Qi Haifeng's name in the 1500m. The official result supplied to the press should have had that 'DNS'. It did not.
There were several wind-readings in many events which were listed as 0.0. It apparently meant that no one had taken a wind-reading or else someone was too lazy to write it down in the official score-sheets. Otherwise, in a meet which had headwinds, going up to as high as 3.1, disturbing the sprints, the sight of '0.0' for the entire series of jumps in women's long jump cannot be explained.
There was an area designated to conduct post-event interviews of medallists. We never saw anyone being brought there. Nor could we find what could be called a 'mixed zone', meaning an area where the press, television, radio etc could conduct flash interviews with competitors.
There was a zone, between the sub press centre and the VIP stands in which the athletes tried to slip into their track-suits or pull out their spikes, amidst milling crowds!
If you still want to call these championships the best ever, we are not going to complain. For, we are through with it. We only hope the Filipinos don't get ideas. Manila is the next stop in 2003.
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