September162014

USA Curling Update: Brady Clark Goes 1-3 In Edmonton

It was a light weekend on the WCT circuit for Americans: 2012 USA champion Brady Clark’s team was the only one participating for points. The HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Edmonton was a triple-knockout tournament, and they started off well with a 5-3 win over Thomas Usselman, then lost their next three games, all in the eighth or extra ends, twice losing with hammer in the final end.

A 1-3 record didn’t yield any WCT points, but it was a strong showing. They were in a position to win every game they played. It’s tough to win in Alberta — 7 of the top 50 WCT teams hail from there. Based out of Seattle, Clark is well-positioned to play teams from Western Canada, stay high in the ranking and still contend for the US title.

This weekend: There are four events on the WCT tour, with the Shorty Jenkins Classic being the biggest one, by total prize money, to date this year. No American teams will be present, but tons of big namesJacobs, Edin, Murdoch, Howard, Stoughton, Gushue, De Cruz, Michel—are in the draw. The women’s side will feature Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, Eve Muirhead and Sherry Middaugh among a group of 12.

The Twin Cities Open in Blaine, Minnesota, obviously features a ton of American teams. The women’s event has the deeper set of familiar names: all three High Performance teams (Spatola, Sormunen, Christensen) along with Cassie Potter and Allison Pottinger. The men’s event will have the HP junior team (Stephen Dropkin) and an assortment of competitive Minnesota teams, some in the WCT top 100 (Peter Stolt, Mike Farbelow). The points, they’re up for grabs.

The Cloverdale Cash Spiel in Surrey, BC will include Team Sieg, a senior team out of Seattle, in a pool of mostly British Columbians and one Taiwanese team.

And the schedule also lists a cashspiel in Saskatoon, but I can’t find out a dang thing out about it.

September92014

Stu Sells Oakville Tankard: How the Americans did

Last month we were introduced to the USA high performance teams, as well as “the others.” While I was surprised at Plys being the skip of the A-team, I understand it. He’s probably the most marketable curler this country has for the next four years, but I also understand that based on curling ability, there are other teams out there who can compete and be just as good.

This weekend was the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard in Ontario, the first big curling event in Canada. A total of 60 teams (30 men, 30 women) competed, mostly from Ontario, but a couple of those suicidal European teams found their way up. The USA also was represented four ways: teams Shuster and Eigner on the men, and Brown and McCormick on the women. None of these are the high performance squads, but a couple of them stood out.

We’ll start with Eigner, a team curiously out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne didn’t even have a curling club 10 years ago but apparently they got enough guys to form a whole team that could compete in the Stu Sells. That’s pretty incredible. (I am guessing they curled previously.) They didn’t win a game (having to play the likes of Shuster and silver medallists David Murdoch) but it’s finally something to see Indiana field a competitive curling team.

Erika Brown’s squad went 2-2 but didn’t reach the playoffs. They did rout Team Flaxey, who won last year’s Ontario province, by a score of 9-1.

Deb McCormick’s team went an impressive 3-1 including a wild win over Sherry Middaugh, qualifying for the playoffs before being (I would consider) upset by Erin Morrissey on the final stones, 5-4. I’ve always liked McCormick but I had no clue how this new unknown team would fare. So far, a good first impression.

But I’d say Shuster had the finest weekend. They, too, went 3-1 with their lone round-robin loss being a two-stone defeat to David Murdoch. In the playoffs they were able to beat reigning Ontario champion Greg Balsdon before being soundly defeated by eventual Stu Sells champion Mike McEwen.

(It should be pointed out that the women’s champion of the Stu Sells was Silvana Tirinzoni, who beat Alina Paetz in an all-Switzerland final, because Switzerland is the new Canada. Bow to them.)

Next up on the WCT is the HDF Insurance Shoot-Out in Alberta. Again, it’s mostly Albertan teams with some Swiss and Swedish traveling fools. The lone American team will be Brady Clark from Seattle, another likable non-HP team. I’ll be interested in how they stack up against some of Alberta’s finest.

September12014

2014 Baden Masters

Hallelujah, I got to watch curling online in August. Admittedly it didn’t feel right with the A/C on at home.

Thomas Ulsrud of Norway took home the championship in Baden. They went undefeated and have been unstoppable since dropping a heartbreaker in the Sochi playoff play-in. They didn’t see much resistance in Baden, taking down Brewster and Drozdov easily, then edging Edin in the semis and surviving against the De Cruz rink.

Sven Michel, who won this thing a few times in the past, made the semifinals and looked okay but they weren’t even the best Swiss team there.

Peter De Cruz’s team looked terrific. In the quarterfinals they put up a six-ender (!) against Team Murdoch, and made short work of Edin. When I was watching, their fourth Benoit Schwarz made nice bailout shots, and one of the biggest reasons they lost the championship game was an unfortunate pick in the sixth end, having to settle for one instead of two points, losing 6-5.

One other score of note … Mikel Unanue of Spain nearly beat Steve Laycock of Canada, holding a 4-1 lead halfway home, then Laycock laid down a 4-ender and eventually won 6-5. When you’re an outsider team, these round robins tend to be stacked against you, so they had three teams in the WCT top 30 and didn’t stand much of a chance. But they almost had one. Now I pretty much have to keep an eye on them for the season.

August282014

Look! A live curling tournament!

The Baden Masters in Switzerland starts Friday morning and goes through this weekend. It’s billed as the first event on the World Curling Tour, and some games will stream live on YouTube. There are no American teams in the spiel, and 19 of the 20 are European. Much of the field is comprised of Swiss cashspielers and others you haven’t heard of. Then you’ve got your major players: Edin, Ulsrud, Laycock, the Scots, and some others.

I don’t know how much I’ll get to watch, and it’s not like the results will indicate much since many teams have seen little ice time this summer. But I’ll be interested in the results of a few teams:

• Team Edin (Sweden): The bronze medalist in Sochi has a whole new team. Basically the Swedish A- and B- teams joined forces. Edin’s old team started slow and finished strong. Eriksson’s team had a good year too. Maybe this will work?

• Team Brewster (Scotland): After being exiled to the bench during the Olympics, Brewster’s old team now remains with David Murdoch, and he’s got a new bunch to curl with. Young and unproven, but at least Brewster is back as a skip again.

• Team Michel (Switzerland): Sven Michel’s team had a pretty disappointing Olympics. Let’s see if they can bounce back.

• Team Unanue (Spain): I didn’t even know Spain had a competitive curling team. Turns out they do! They played in the Group B of last year’s European Championships (as did the Netherlands, who has a team as well) and went 2-5. If they get shut out, then hopefully they get better, but this is a good chance to get noticed.

Here are the round robin pools. They seem evenly-distributed. No idea who is the favorite, but I’ll take Michel to win, because he’s done it twice before.

August182014

The USA High Performance teams (and the others)

The High Performance Camp isn’t until this weekend, and I thought that was when the HP teams were going to be assembled. But tipped off by the CurlingZone forums, the World Curling Tour already has these teams in their database:

Men’s A
Skip: Chris Plys
Vice: Joe Polo
Second: Jared Zezel
Lead: Colin Hufman
Alternate: Ryan Brunt

Men’s B
Skip: Heath McCormick
Vice: Craig Brown
Second: Kroy Nernberger
Lead: Sean Beighton
Alternate: Alex Leichter

Women’s A
Skip: Nina Spatola
Vice: Jamie Sinclair
Second: Becca Hamilton
Lead: Tabitha Peterson

Women’s B
Skip: Aileen Sormunen
Third: Tara Peterson
Second: Vicky Persinger
Lead: Monica Walker

[looks at my women’s predictions] Hey, pretty close!
[looks at my men’s predictions] [burns everything]

As good as he is, I’m super surprised that Plys was named a skip. His frontend is a good selection and pretty much what I imagined. The big shock was Heath McCormick (Plys’s skip at the end of last season) not being on the A team. But him coupled with Craig Brown could work out.

As for the women’s teams … I don’t have any qualms with the picks. I like Spatola, she proved herself last year and didn’t get the chance to represent the USA at the world’s due to the new points system. Jamie Sinclair is an interesting young pick to vice for the A squad, but we’ll see how they do.

Will these “A” teams be the ones who represent the USA at worlds? They are obviously the front-runners but there are still the non-HP-funded teams who can still accrue sponsorship money and play a tough schedule. The WCT includes the following notable USA teams:

MEN
Dean Gemmell, Bill Stopera, Calvin Weber, Martin Sather
John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, Trevor Host
Brady Clark, Greg Persinger, Matt Birklid, Phil Tilker

WOMEN
Cassie Potter, Courtney George, Amy Lou Anderson, Theresa Hoffoss
Erika Brown, Alex Carlson, Rebecca Funk, Kendall Behm
Deb McCormick, Brittany Falk, Emilia Juocys, Stephanie Senneker
Patti Lank, Maureen Stolt, Anna Bauman, Madisson Lank

As you can imagine, this is a mishmash of broken up teams that found each other. George/Gemmell/Stopera/Sather broke up entirely and found new teams. The fact that Shuster and George are teammates now is wildly interesting; that may be my new favorite team, even though I have never heard of their lead.

For the women, Erika Brown is not quitting after all; in fact she formed a super young team of talented twentysomethings. McCormick is also seeming to make a run at it, and the Potter rink really put some good skips together. So the High Performance teams have the money; but there’s still some contenders on the fringes.

The WCT season starts in a few weeks and honestly I don’t know how much time I’ll have to cover it, but we’ll just see where the Tumblr takes us.

August12014

USA named their high performance curlers

Here’s the list. The men’s group has 10, the women’s has eight, and there are 11 junior curlers. 

We’ll start with the women: Nina Spatola, Becca Hamilton and Tara Peterson, the nucleus who won the 2014 USA championship, were named. Their lead Sophie Brorson didn’t make the cut, Team Pottinger lead Tabitha Peterson (Tara’s sister) did. It sounds like they will form teams next month, but I I think there’s your A team. That would mean the other four — Aileen Sormunen, Jamie Sinclair, Monica Walker and Vicky Persinger — would be the B team.

In terms of the athlete pool, I didn’t see many surprises. Deb McCormick was in the running and she has been the face of USA curling for over a decade, but I guess it was time for to let the younger crowd take over.

On the men’s side … relax, Internet, there is no John Shuster. While that saddens me, the 10 they did pick can bring it:

  • Four ex-Olympians: Joe Polo, Jared Zezel, Craig Brown and Chris Plys
  • Twothree with world championship experience in Heath McCormick, Ryan Brunt and Sean Beighton
  • Rounding out the group is Colin Hufman, Alex Leichter and Kroy Nernberger.

Just a hunch, but McCormick and Brown will be the A- and B- skips in that order. I like the idea of teaming up McCormick with Plys, Zezel and Hufman, with Polo as the alternate. I would have liked to see John Landsteiner selected, not only due to my affinity for lefties but he is a damn good lead. The next best choice is Hufman or Brunt, with Hufman probably winning the tiebreak having been McCormick’s former teammate. That would make the B team Brown, Nernberger, Leichter, Brunt and Beighton. But they’ll sort all that out in due time.

Personally I didn’t see a problem with the old way of doing business, which was more democratic and inclusive. (Technically any team of players not picked can compete, they’re just not going to get the USCA funding.) But the results weren’t there so a change had to be made, I guess.

The whole point of this selection process was to get USA’s ranking up so that they are not in danger of failing to qualify for the 2018 Olympics. Of course, if they can groom a team in 2014 to be excellent in four years, then they’ll do it. But they also want to be as good as they can in the 2015 world championships in Halifax (men’s) Sapporo, Japan (women’s) and Tallinn, Estonia (juniors).

June252014

Which USA teams would be the best?

USA Curling released their list of combine invitees for their High Performance Program today. Basically the name of the game is: you aren’t going to build your own championship team, USA Curling is going to do that for you. After falling short of Olympic expectations for two cycles (read: not last place), they’re trying something new. I have no idea if it’ll work, but at least it’s different!

There are no surprise names on the list, but the omission of some names stand out:

1. No Pete Fenson, but apparently he retired. Was there a news story about Pete Fenson retiring? You’d think the most successful USA men’s skip of the last 10 years stepping away from competitive curling would be bigger news. But then again USA curling news isn’t really something that hits ESPN. Still.

2. Nobody from Tyler George’s team. No Brady Clark either. And one player from Team Shuster is missing: vice Jeff Isaacson, who truth be told could have had a better Olympics.

3. On the women’s side, it looks like Team Pottinger is off the radar. Only their lead is on the short list. No Cassie Potter either. I never heard specifically that Erika Brown would retire, although the omission of her name is probably a good indicator of that.

On the whole I think this committee could put together a very fierce women’s team, since many good candidates are on teams who may not have been as strong. But I am going to laugh if they just pick an existing men’s team like Shuster or McCormick.

I can’t read into the mind of the USA curling coaches, but one hypothetical team intrigues me: Heath McCormick, Chris Plys, Jared Zezel, John Landsteiner, with alternate Joe Polo. Basically fusing two teams together, and throwing in Fenson’s former second. For a women’s team … you’re probably going to see a team assembled from scratch. So it’s a total guess, but how about Nina Spatola, Courtney George, Jessica Schultz and Tabitha Peterson, with Deb McCormick as a veteran alternate?

Mix and match all you want, but we’ll just have to see what the committee comes back with, assume that these will be the 2018 USA Olympic teams, and hope for the best.

April172014

The 2016 USA curling championships will be in Jacksonville

Yep, there it is on the USCA website. We’re going to have a curling championship in Florida. This is apparently something they’ve been working on for a few years, trying to get some niche interests into the region.

Currently there are zero active curling clubs in Florida — the closest one is Atlanta — but there used to be one in the Tampa area. This is certainly part of their attempt to expand curling interest into states with pretty super awesome winters, such as the Continental Cup in Las Vegas and the clinic in Hawaii last year. They haven’t announced the facility but it’ll probably be the Jacksonville Ice & SportsPlex, and with any luck they can also start a recreational curling club there, similar to what Kalamazoo did — they founded a club in 2008 and hosting the 2010 nationals really helped solidify their membership.

My only concern is maybe the ice conditions won’t be great down there, which can happen in warm weather. Bad ice can really level the playing field, and that’s really not the point. Whatever team the USCA anoints as the Next Gold Medal Favorite will have to go down there and compete. But I’m not concerned about interest being generated down there. I’m sure Florida doesn’t care only because they don’t have access to the sport.

Hopefully it all works out, because Florida needs curling in the worst way.

April32014
“Japan has never done better than ninth at worlds, and given the field, I don’t see that changing.”

From my WMCC 2014 preview.

Japan reached the tiebreaker game, losing to Sweden by a single point, finishing 7-4 in the round robin and fifth overall. They beat, among others, Kevin Koe’s Canadian rink, three teams that played in Sochi, and a former Olympic bronze medal team. Predictions are hard.

March282014

2014 World Men’s Curling Championship Preview

Sure, this isn’t the end of the season. There are a couple of major World Curling Tour events left in the season, such as the $100,000-purse Players Championship, but ostensibly the world championship feels like the conclusion. It’s the end of the road of playdowns in all countries leading up to this. There’s nowhere else to advance.

It’s also the start of the new Olympic cycle, meaning all of these countries are eligible to contend for the 2018 games either automatically or through the Olympic Qualifying Event, depending on how well they do. This men’s field includes five returning Olympic squads, plus a former Olympic medal team and a former world champion. So there’s lots of power at the top. A couple countries are bringing their B team needing to showcase their depth, others not lucky enough to qualify for the Olympics are here trying to make some noise.

The fun starts March 29 and goes through April 6 in Beijing. Some games will be streamed on WorldCurlingTV. Lucky dogs in Canada get some of the Canadian games and championships on TSN. Select games will be on in the USA through NBC Universal Sports, and other European countries as well as China and Brazil (!!!) will also air some games.

CANADA
WCT Rank: 4
Skip: Kevin Koe
Third: Pat Simmons
Second: Carter Rycroft
Lead: Nolan Thiessen
Alternate: Jamie King

Let’s talk about this team for a minute. First off, any Canadian men’s champion is the obvious favorite, and this team is no exception, especially since they won the 2010 world title in a similar situation — great team in a slightly depleted field. But there are reports that Koe’s team is disbanding with Marc Kennedy, Ben Hebert and Brent Laing playing for Koe. The only one confirmed is Laing — Carter Rycroft has announced plans to take next year off for family reasons, and while this current team may know and accept the real truth, this has to be one of the first “media distractions” for a freaking curling team. But distractions are usually overblown; plus they’re going to be in China the entire time and likely can’t even read the Canadian newspapers over there.

CHINA
WCT Rank: 15
Skip: Rui Liu
Third: Xiaoming Xu
Second: Dexin Ba
Lead: Jialiang Zang
Alternate: Dejia Zou

The Chinese team had been proving themselves all year headed into the Olympics, so much that a fourth-place finish was almost disappointing for them. Liu was arguably the top skip during the round robin in Sochi, and his shotmaking carried the team. If ever there was a new country that could turn curling into a national craze, this is the one, and with the games in Beijing and a popular team riding a wave of success, maybe this could be the start of something. But Liu has to be wary of the Olympic hangover — this is a lot of games and they may want to rotate in their alternate to stay fresh.

CZECH REPUBLIC
WCT Rank: 36
Skip: Jiri Snitil
Third: Martin Snitil
Second: Jakub Bares
Lead: Jindrich Kitzberger
Alternate: Marek Vydra

I’m a big fan of this team. For one, they’re a nascent curling country. Two of their players (the Snitil brothers) also have some rockin’ beards. Jiri Snitil looks like an old fisherman. And they’re by all accounts extremely nice guys. I thought they’d make the Olympics, even though it could have been at the USA’s expense. They blew two chances to get there, losing to Germany in the first qualifier and then to John Shuster’s group in the second. (Yes, John Shuster can win big games.) But they’ve been knocking on the door for a while. With a couple big wins in last year’s world championship (such as Canada), they won’t be in the playoff conversation but could make it interesting for lots of contending teams.

DENMARK
WCT Rank: 17
Skip: Rasmus Stjerne
Third: Johnny Frederiksen
Second: Lars Vilandt
Lead: Troels Harry
Alternate: Oliver Dupont

A 4-5 finish at the Olympics was right about how I pegged this team. Given they finished fourth in their last three European/world events, it feels like a setback. But they did bag some big wins against their northern neighbors (Norway, Sweden) so even though the Swedes won a medal, they won the informal medal of Best Scandinavian Curling Country. Again on paper they are the fourth best team, so a medal is obviously their goal. The country hasn’t had one since 1990 when Tommy Stjerne skipped his team to a bronze. Yep, that’s his dad.

GERMANY
WCT Rank: 49
Fourth: Felix Schulze
Skip: Johnny Jahr
Second: Christopher Bartsch
Lead: Sven Goldemann
Alternate: Peter Rickmers

I fell pretty hard for this team for a lot of reasons. First off, everybody loves a loser who yells loudly. Plus, they’re old German guys, so they probably have better stories than you. Also, Johnny Jahr’s basically a millionaire who invests in stocks and casinos but put his Deutsche Mark-making on hold to return to the world curling stage, and that’s basically my dream. Schulze can make some shots, but the age and depth isn’t really on this team’s side to do more than net a couple of wins.

JAPAN
WCT Rank: 41
Skip: Yusuke Morozumi
Third: Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi
Second: Tetsuro Shimizu
Lead: Kosuke Morozumi

It was a rough season for Morozumi’s team. They finished last among eight in the OQE, and last year at worlds they finished 3-8. But they were the only team to beat both Canada and Sweden, who finished first/second in that event. Go figure. So they’re a team that can run hot and cold, but probably not hot enough to finish above .500. They’re still the undisputed second-best country in the Pacific-Asia region, but Japan has never done better than ninth at worlds, and given the field, I don’t see that changing.

NORWAY
WCT Rank: 10
Skip: Thomas Ulsrud
Third: Torger Nergård
Second: Christoffer Svae
Lead: Håvard Vad Petersson
Alternate: Markus Høiberg

The are rumblings that this could be the last run for Team Trousers. It’s not necessarily a matter of age, although Ulsrud is 42 and Nergård is 39. But it seems more like real life is starting to interfere, and you always have to defer to that. Svae (the brains behind the wild pants idea) and Vad Petersson could spearhead a future team should the backend retire/step away, and it could all depend on the results of the world championship. They could win it. That would be a heck of a curtain call.

RUSSIA
WCT Rank: 43
Fourth: Alexey Stukalskiy
Third: Evgeniy Arkhipov
Skip: Andrey Drozdov
Lead: Petr Dron
Alternate: Sergey Glukhov

The Russian team stirred up the Sochi crowd, but mostly because they were also from Russia and people like cheering for home teams. A 3-6 finish was probably better than I had pegged them — Switzerland and USA had 10th end issues against them — and they like high scoring, lots-of-rocks-in-play ends. The problem is that can get them in trouble on the world stage. If there is a strength on the team, it’s Dron, a giant hulk of a man at 6’6” and a powerful sweeper. Looks like he’s actually playing on a mini curling sheet. But away from a friendly crowd, I’m not a believer yet.

SCOTLAND
WCT Rank: 71
Skip: Ewan MacDonald
Third: Duncan Fernie
Second: David Reid
Lead: Euan Byers
Alternate: Glen Muirhead

On the heels of David Murdoch and company’s silver medal, Scotland is trucking out a B team to send to Beijing. The MacDonald team has a wealth of experience, starting with the skip, who was part of three previous world titles dating back to 1999, two of them vicing for David Murdoch. This will be his first time as skip on the world stage. Euan Byers was also part of that world championship Murdoch team. Although they ran through the Scottish national championship undefeated, there’s a hefty mix of veterans and newbs to the world stage on this team that will likely put them near the bottom of the crowd.

http://results.worldcurling.org/Championship.aspx?id=488

SWEDEN
WCT Rank: 19
Skip: Oskar Eriksson
Third: Kristian Lindström
Second: Markus Eriksson
Lead: Christoffer Sundgren
Alternate: Gustav Eskilsson

Niklas Edin finally reached the Olympic podium. I mean, it was only two Olympics so this wasn’t exactly a drought. But perhaps to give their team a break, the Swedish high performance committee selected the B team to go to worlds, even though they re-sent Sigfridsson’s team on the women’s side. Sweden thought highly enough for Eriksson to act as the county’s alternate in recent worlds and Olympics (so he is officially an Olympic bronze medalist), including playing 12 games in the 2012 worlds when Edin nursed a back injury. But this is his first time as the skip on the adult stage. They were 2011 junior champions, won last year’s World University Games and had some good showings at major events this year. They can compete and win lots of games here, hence why Sweden is confident in sending them.

SWITZERLAND
WCT Rank: 21
Fourth: Benoit Schwarz
Skip: Peter de Cruz
Second: Dominik Märki
Lead: Valentin Tanner
Alternate: Claudio Pätz

One of the surprising under-performances in world curling was that of Sven Michel’s Swiss team after winning the European championship. They went 3-6 in Sochi, including a bizarre loss to Russia after allowing a steal of three in the 10th, and things snowballed from there. Michel’s team then plodded through the Swiss championship, eventually losing to Team de Cruz in the finals. An upset, perhaps. But this is a young exciting team as well that won the world junior title in 2010 and runner-up in 2011. They’ve played well in some high profile spiels and should be up to the challenge for their first world experience. I doubted Binia Feltscher once. I shant again doubt a rookie Swiss team.

UNITED STATES
WCT Rank: 25
Skip: Pete Fenson
Third: Shawn Rojeski
Second: Joe Polo
Lead: Ryan Brunt
Alternate: Jared Zezel

It’s hard to gauge how close this team was to making the Olympics. Yes, they lost to John Shuster 11-1 in the deciding US Olympic trials game. But how would they have fared at the OQE? We *know* that Shuster took his team to Germany and qualified. What Fenson would have done there remains to be seen, but we may get a taste of what could have been against a field like this, namely some of the third-tier teams like Germany, Japan and the Czech Republic. We can keep touting this team as an Olympic bronze medalist, and not to dismiss that feat because that’s a really hard thing to do, but that was eight years ago, including John Shuster as lead. This will be Fenson’s eighth world appearance and third in the last five years. They finished fourth in 2010 but a disappointing 10th in ‘11. Anything in between is possible.

PREDICTION:

*Canada 9-2
*China 8-3
*Norway 8-3
*Switzerland 7-4
Sweden 6-5
Denmark 6-5
USA 5-6
Czech Republic 5-6
Germany 4-7
Scotland 3-8
Japan 3-8
Russia 2-9

1-2 game: Canada d. China
3-4 game: Switzerland d. Norway
Semifinal: China d. Switzerland
Bronze: Norway d. Switzerland
Gold: Canada d. China

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