Author Archives: Gary Hall Sr

The Race Club: Nuances of an Elite Sprinter

The Quest to Hydroplane: Nuances of an Elite Sprinter

Watching fast swimmers do freestyle is a thing of beauty. It looks easy but it is not. Hard and sustained training is an integral part of that formula but there are more pieces to the puzzle. At The Race Club, we pride ourselves in coaching some of the world’s best sprinters. There are five subtle adjustments we teach a sprinter at TRC to get closer to the ultimate goal of hydroplaning across the surface. When you see a great sprinter in real-time, you may not always have time to appreciate these important techniques.

RoyAllan1. High stroke rate

You won’t find sprinters that turn their arms over slowly. In freestyle, there are two main styles that are recognized by the swimming community. In hip-driven freestyle, one pushes the hand forward in the water after the entry, relying on big hip rotation, a strong kick and the Bernoulli (commonly associated with airplane wings) Effect to lift the body in the water. In shoulder-driven freestyle, the arms turn over much faster and work more like a propeller than a wing. Sprinters use their arms in this fashion to rise up in the water, even though there are only two blades in use, the right and left hand.

2. Attack from above

Sprinters recover their arms more vertically than distance swimmers. Whether the arm recovery is straight or bent at the elbow, virtually every sprinter gets vertical from the elbow to the shoulder as the arm passes through the air on the recovery. This high attack angle enables the sprinter to get into the propulsive phase faster and creates more body rotation to increase the power of each pull.

 3. Work the lift phase

Once the hand enters the water, it will travel forward and down. We call this the lift phase because the motion and forces are downward, resulting in a lift of the body. The sprinter understands the importance of lift as every millimeter higher in the water the body gets, the less frontal drag occurs and the faster the swimmer goes. When the hand enters the water, the sprinter immediately pushes down hard with the hand and forearm.

4. Elevate the chest

Seldom discussed, this is one of the most important maneuvers that a sprinter will make in the water. By pushing the chest upward toward the sky or ceiling and hunching the shoulders slightly, the entire upper body elevates in the water. This motion also helps to lower the head and keep the body more in alignment, reducing frontal drag.

 5. Sustained six beat kick

Most people know what a six-beat kick is, but few can use it like a sprinter does. The kick of a fast sprinter is hard, works in both directions, and is contained in a smaller area. In other words, the sprinter’s kicks are tighter, faster and relentless. This type of kick provides more propulsion, higher lift and keeps the athlete’s body speed at a more constant rate, obeying the immutable law of inertia.

Hydroplaning the human body in the water may be the hallmark of a great sprinter, but the quest for this desirable trait does not come easy. It is fun to imagine that perhaps one day we will see a swimmer someday so powerful that he or she will rise above the water. If we ever see that swimmer, I assure you that they will not only shatter every record, but will be swimming using all five of the techniques listed above.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (10)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #10: The Race Club is only meant for sprinters

I admit that at the Olympic level, nearly all of our success has been with sprinters. That is because our former coach, Mike Bottom (currently head coach at University of Michigan), is one of the best sprint coaches in the world.

But we understand swimming, all swimming: sprints, mid-distance, distance, open water and triathlon OW. We also understand strength training, mental training, nutrition and recovery are all parts of the important formula for success.

Hall

We believe that there is not one single technique that works best for every swimmer. We also believe every swimmer needs to have more than one technique for any stroke, depending on the swimmer’s strengths, the distance, the conditions, etc.

There are, however, certain fundamentals of swimming that apply to everyone and cannot be ignored. In fact, they need to be understood in order to become a better swimmer. I have covered many of these fundamentals throughout these 10 myths that I have tried to bust.

They are also covered in our DVD‘s, Three Styles of Freestyle, Fundamentals of Fast Swimming, and Life is Worth Swimming.We are currently working on a series of Webisodes that will be featured soon on TheRaceClub.net about safety in Open Water competition as well as tips on getting the edge in Open Water.

Thank you for following me on my quest to bust some pretty serious myths in swimming. At the very least, I hope I have helped you become a better swimmer or coach in the process.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (9)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #9: All swimming drills are good for you.

I am a big believer in doing drills. In fact, if more swimmers spent a little more time doing drills and not worry so much about squeezing in another minute of aerobic fitness in, they might come out ahead. The biggest problem with drills is that too often they are being done without any real understanding of what they are supposed to be teaching. Drills should be done slowly, deliberately, correctly and with a specific purpose in mind. In fact, a drill should have only one purpose in mind. If one is trying to learn two things from one drill, neither one will likely sink in. Since there are no drill races that I am aware of, nearly all drills should be done slowly. Coaches often go to great lengths to explain how to do a drill properly, but then forget to mention what the drill is for. This is doing your swimmers a great disservice.

I also believe that following a drill with a swim is important. A swim immediately following a drill will reinforce what is being learned from the drill. It gives the swimmer a chance to practice what was learned without delay. If you wait ten minutes after a drill to start swimming, you may have already forgotten the point of it. At The Race Club, we like going 25 meters drill, followed by 25 meters swim. That seems to be enough time and space to do both effectively.

One of the reasons I love FINIS is that their equipment is ideally suited for drills. Using a snorkel, for example, to teach head down position, or the Agility Paddles to reinforce the high elbow position, make the drills more successful. The Alignment Kickboard to teach proper streamlining and the Tempo Trainer to teach higher stroke rate are both indispensable tools for learning these techniques.

Sometimes the drills that are being recommended actually teach you the wrong thing. For example, if you have no kick and you are trying to get faster by learning how to increase your stroke rate, then a catch-up drill may be doing you a big disservice. Or if I ever see anyone who has been told to flick water with their hand/wrist out the back end of their stroke, I kindly ask them to hit the delete button. Or what does sliding your fingertips across the surface of the water (finger tip drill) teach you that will help you swim faster?

All I ask is that you do some drills nearly every time you jump in the water, even if for warm up, and that you use the right tools (equipment) to reinforce the drill lesson. Finally, please understand what the drill is trying to teach you AND that the drill is designed for the technique you are trying to learn. Good drilling is all part of Swimming Smarter.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.
The Race Club

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (8)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #8: When it comes to getting oxygen in freestyle, breathing every cycle is as good as it gets.

In almost every other sport but swimming we get the luxury of breathing whenever we want. With maximal exertion, we are typically inhaling at a respiratory rate of between 50 and 65 times per minute. That is not the case in swimming.

In freestyle, most swimmers breathe every cycle and only to one side (a cycle is two arm strokes). For hip driven freestylers that use a stroke rate of around 60 strokes per minute, the respiratory rate with this breathing pattern is 30; hardly how one would breathe if they had the choice. Try running or biking with that respiratory rate and see how you do!

But you do have a choice. First, you could learn to swim with a higher stroke rate, adopting more of a shoulder-driven technique. That would likely increase your stroke rate to the high 80’s or low 90’s for endurance swims and your respiratory rate to about 45. Second, you could try a different breathing pattern.
When Sun Yang (hip-driven world record holder in 1500 meters) swims the 1500,  his stroke rate is about 60 strokes per minute until the last 100. Except for the turns, he breathes every cycle (respiratory rate of 30). Going in to and out of every turn, however, he changes his pattern to breathe on two or three successive strokes going in and about three successive strokes coming out of the turn. In my opinion, this extra oxygen gives him a clear advantage and helps him to finish faster than anyone else ever has (by far). In London, he finished in 25.6 on the final 50 meters!ZoomersGold You can try copying Sun Yang (Kieren Perkins also did this to less extent in the 90’s), but what about in the open water swims? Personally, I have adopted a different breathing pattern.

What are the pros and cons?

Pros: You get 17% more oxygen than if you breathe every cycle, and with oxygen you’ll produce 15 times more ATP than without it, and hopefully less lactate. You also get the associated benefits of breathing more, such as experiencing less fatigue and getting to see the scenery on both sides of the lake or pool.

Cons: Many swimmers feel awkward breathing to their weak side. The act of breathing slows the stroke rate. Breathing often results in the arm being pulled too far under the body, creating more drag. In open water swims, if there is a nice swell on one side, breathing to that side may lead to swallowing more water.

It remains to be seen if others will adopt Sun Yang’s breathing pattern or attempt a 2:3 pattern. But for me, an almost 60 year old not-so-superbly conditioned swimmer who enters an ocean swim once or twice a year and dislikes any pool race over 100 meters, I love the 2:3 pattern. I especially like it on long aerobic sets. And for those swimmers who dare to try it (and it takes some getting used to), you may not actually swim any faster by breathing every cycle, but I’ll bet you will feel a lot better afterward.

At The Race Club we don’t believe that anaerobic (breath holding) training helps the endurance athletes as much as the sprinters. Getting enough oxygen in a race clearly benefits the athletes in any race over a 50-meter sprint. We also recommend Activated Stabilized Oxygen before and after each race to all our Race Club swimmers, sprinters or distance. The product is available on our website at www.theraceclub.com.

 

Gary Sr.

The Race Club

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (7)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #7: In order to reduce the air bubbles behind your hand underwater, you must enter the hand delicately.

Many beginner swimmers are taught to enter the hand just in front of their head and slide it underwater as the elbow extends. Others are also told to slow the hand down before it enters the water to reduce the amount of bubbles you carry into the catch. These are a few common myths that warrant another look.

Having a lot of air bubbles behind the hand reduces the amount of propulsive drag one can generate during the pull. In fact, most great swimmers have little or no air during their catch while many not-so-great swimmers often have lots of air. Why?

It doesn’t have to do with laying the hand in the water slowly, nor does it come from sliding the hand forward underwater. The reality is quite the opposite: great swimmers move their hands and arms aggressively forward through the recovery, hurrying to get them back into the water again.

So how do they manage to get rid of the air? Good question. My old coach, Doc Counsilman at Indiana University used to evaluate swimming talent by how much air he saw on the hand underwater. He thought made the difference between great swimmers and mediocre ones. Great swimmers could sense where to find and hold water, which would ultimately include getting rid of the air. Former Cal. Berkeley coach, Nort Thornton recently told me that he believes the sensation in the little and ring finger (Ulnar nerve) is most responsible for a swimmer’s ability to feel the water. He may well be right. At The Race Club, I have noticed that by bending my small and ring fingers slightly during the lift phase of the pull, like pushing them into a stick of butter, my sensation and feel for the water improves.

Many swimmers enter with the thumb down and roll the hand and shoulder to accomplish this. Others spread or move the fingers slightly leading into their catch. This small movement as the hand goes through the underwater cycle may also help.

As much as I hate to say it, many people are born with the ability to avoid air bubbles. Just don’t try to get rid of air by being delicate with your hand or slowing your stroke cycle, because that creates more problems than it helps.

Even great swimmers have some air bubbles. There are no swimming drills or techniques I am aware of, other than those I mentioned, that can help you avoid air bubbles. Just accept what you have and move on to the things you can control.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Director of The Race Club

 

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (6)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #6:When it comes to swimming fast, kicking is overrated.

Kicking is anything but overrated. As some of you have already learned, I believe that it is the power of the kick that separates the great swimmers from the not-so-great ones, more than anything else. But there is a problem with that notion.

First, if you have strong legs but have limited flexibility in your ankles and feet, becoming a strong kicker is a long-term project. You can develop more flexibility to improve your kicking by doing some of the dry land stretches shown on our latest Race Club DVD, “Life is Worth Swimming.” Next, be sure to really work your legs in practice.

A six beat kick serves four main functions:

1) Provide propulsion (laws of motion)
2) Provide lift (reduce frontal drag)
3) Act as part of the stabilizing force for your pull (increase distance per stroke)
4) Sustain a more constant speed (obey the law of inertia)

If you can’t kick fast, you aren’t going to get much propulsion from your legs, but a lot of propulsion still comes from the arms. You can, however, still get enough lift and counter-force for your arm pull, both of which are very worthwhile. So don’t give up on the kick. If you wear a wet suit in open water, you don’t have to worry about the lift part, but you still need the counter-force to improve your distance per stroke.

A two-beat kick can still provide the counter-force needed to create lift, and with using a lot less energy. Not a bad method for a distance swimmer who can’t kick as fast or a triathlete that wants to save their legs for the bike and run.

So here is my advice to you: Work your legs hard. Devote every 4th or 5th practice completely to your legs. And, unless you have no propulsion, always use a 6 beat kick. Getting your legs in really good shape will pay big dividends in your racing. Although “social kick” is a great time to enjoy your company, it is not the right way to develop a strong leg drive.

In fact, the best way to improve your kick technique and practice your streamline at the same time is by using the FINIS Alignment Kickboard, coupled with the FINIS Swimmer’s Snorkel. The combination of these products creates great body position for kicking and gets you more accustomed to being in a streamlined position. At The Race Club, all of our board kicking is done this way; whether it’s flutter, dolphin or breaststroke kick.

I am such a big fan of kicking, I took an old, but good song, It’s in His Kiss and changed the lyrics a bit and renamed the song, It’s in his Kick. One of our Race Club families from Buffalo, NY came down to the Keys to learn to swim and kick faster. I told them about the song, so they went home and recorded it on the link below. Hope you enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGSs8cvVgWM

 

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

The Race Club

 

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Gary Hall, Swimming Myths Debunked (5)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #5. The reason we pull freestyle underwater with a high elbow is to increase the surface area of our arm.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am preaching high elbows a lot. There is a reason. At each camp at the Race Club, I end by making ten or so points that improve speed and efficiency in freestyle. The most critical of these points always pertains to swimming with a high elbow. Dropping the elbow is like taking a drag suit into competition, only worse, because you don’t feel what is happening to you until it is too late.

So when I ask campers and coaches to tell me why there is so much importance placed on swimming with a high elbow, they usually believe it’s for increased power or increased surface area through the pull. I don’t think either one is right.

Throwing on a pair of hand paddles (which, by the way, my coach Flip Darr, reinvented in 1967) gives an increase in power from the added surface area. So by creating an Early Vertical Forearm (EVF), do we also increase the surface area of our pulling arm?

First, the only area that matters in terms of propulsion from the arms is the part of the arm that ends up moving backwards, creating propulsive drag. That is made up of the hand and forearm (until the very end of the pull), so we can exclude the upper arm for this argument. Now the question is, do we have more surface area on the hand and forearm in the EVF position than we do in a deep arm/elbow position?

We are primarily concerned with the surface area projected onto a plane perpendicular to our long axis, which is the area that is creating the propulsive force. A poor swimmer leads so much more with their elbow in a low position, that the surface area is reduced.

But with decent swimmers that is not what you see. From head-on, or from the rear, you don’t see much difference in the surface area of the forearm and hand regardless of whether it has been dropped, or is in the EVF position. The surface area of the arm remains the same.

In the Race Club’s recently released video, Life is Worth Swimming, one can contrast a high elbow pull of Bobby Savulich versus a deeper (sprint) pull of George Bovell. I can’t see that one pull produces a larger surface area than the other.

Therefore, I rest my case. The reason we like the EVF position is to reduce drag, and drag remains the #1 enemy of the swimmer.

 

-Gary Sr.

The Race Club

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GARY HALL: SWIMMING MYTHS DEBUNKED (4)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #4: The reason you keep the elbows high during the underwater pull is to increase power.

I often hear this myth from both coaches and swimmers. When one looks at the underwater shots of the world’s fastest swimmers, sprint or distance, you find a similar high underwater elbow, also called Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). The elbows are not simply elevated, they are noticeably high, with extreme extension and an internal rotation of the shoulder joint. This is accentuated when coupled with the body rotation in the opposite direction. The position of the elbow and forearm at this position is curious — can one really be stronger in this almost contorted position? I believe the answer is no. To test this, you may go into a gym and use the Free Motion pulleys that many gyms now have. Pull as much weight down with your arm as you can, first with your arm relatively straight forward, then with your arm at your side. Keep your shoulder extended and elbow up and you will not be able to pull as much weight in that position. With the shoulder fully extended, a high elbow is not mechanically superior.

 

So if this weird high elbow position is not about power, what is it about? Drag. By changing the position of the arm as it moves through the pull cycle, one can reduce the drag coefficient significantly. To prove this, kick with fins all out for 25 yards extending one arm above the head and the other straight down toward the bottom of the pool. You will soon learn how significant the drag of your protruding arm becomes when it is at right angle. In fact, you will strain to keep the arm in the position and with any speed at all, it will shake in the water like a palm tree in a hurricane in the Keys. Now try the same drill, but instead of putting your arm straight down, let it protrude straight out to the side but bend the arm 90 degrees at the elbow, as if you were swimming with a high elbow. You will feel considerably less drag in this position. It is using the same arm, a slightly different position, and a lot less drag.

 

Why does a high elbow position create less frontal drag? It has to do with the upper arm, not the lower arm. Only the upper part of the arm is moving forward throughout nearly the entire pull. However, the upper arm is also the largest part of the arm and changing its orientation with a high elbow in the water also reduces the drag coefficient. Achieving an EVF is simply maintaining the upper arm in a position closer to the body’s line, which also results in the least amount of frontal drag.

 

How does one learn to pull with the EVF in practice? At the Race Club, we use the high elbow sculling drill, the human paddle drill and the one arm drill to teach high elbow position. We also use the FINIS Forearm Fulcrum, the Agility Paddles, and use the Rangs Jr, wrapped tightly around the biceps (not the legs) to reinforce the EVF through the pull.

The good news is that most coaches are giving their swimmers the right advice: pull with your elbows high underwater. Now you know the real reason that you should.

 

Gary Sr

 

 

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (3)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #3:  The reason one should rotate the body along the long axis in freestyle is to reduce drag.

Please don’t tell me this is not a myth. I hear this from beginner coaches all the way to some of America’s top coaches. Rotating the body is very important, so is reducing drag. I just don’t think we rotate for that reason. If we did, kicking on our side would be faster (whether underwater or on the surface) than kicking on our stomach. Truth be told, there is not much difference in speed either way. In reality, we really spend very little time on our sides in freestyle. Most is found in the transition from one side to the other. Finishing a freestyle race on our side is also important because we can extend our reach further, but this is not done to reduce drag, either.

 

So if body rotation is not about drag reduction, why do we do it? I would suggest that there are two primary reasons. The first is to gain more power. By rotating, we put our arm into a mechanically better position of strength, engaging much bigger muscles in our back and core to help with the pulling motion. The second reason has to do with the counter-rotation. When we enter our right hand in the water, for example, our body is rotating to the left. At the moment we begin our catch, the body has stopped rotating and initiates the counter-rotation back to the right. We call this point the connection (between the arm and the core/hips). This counter-rotation creates a stabilizing force that gives us something to pull against.

 

I call this the pitching mound effect. If a pitcher throws a baseball at 60 mph from the pitching mound, throw him into the deep end of the pool and have him throw just as hard as before. We will see his ball speed drop by about half. The primary reason that the ball speed reduces so much is that in the water, he no longer has a pitching mound to push the back leg against. So what happens when you are swimming in the middle of the pool, and you can’t pull on the lane line? What are you pulling against? Remember, it is you and the water; no walls, starting blocks or pitching mounds to push off or pull against.  We can create our own stabilizing force out of the rotational motion of our own body. The faster and longer the counter-rotational turn, the greater the stabilizing force and the better distance per stroke (DPS) we can achieve. This is one advantage that hip driven swimmers have over the high stroke rate swimmers. Holding out in front longer gives them more time to rotate their hips and generate more power. But before you all go rushing back to that technique, if you don’t have the legs driving you, even extra DPS cannot overcome the inertia problem. You are still swimming ‘stop-and-go’ freestyle, which is not as efficient as the high stroke rate of a shoulder driven freestyle.

 

Most swimmers I teach swim very flat, like a surfboard that has arms and legs. That would be ok if we had the buoyancy and drag coefficient of a surfboard, but we don’t. We are more like barges and to move our bodies through the water, we need the added power that the body rotation gives us.

 

Can you use good body rotation with a high stroke rate? Yes, but it takes work. Great body rotation doesn’t just happen, you make it happen. Because there is less time between strokes, rotation stems from the shoulders and less from the hips, which take longer to turn. This is, in essence, how shoulder driven freestyle got its name.

 

For some great body-rotation drills, check out our DVD entitled Fundamentals of Fast Swimming, available in the store at www.theraceclub.com.

 

Gary Sr.

 

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Gary Hall: Swimming Myths Debunked (2)

Ten Swimming Myths Busted

Myth #2: The only time you need to worry about reducing frontal drag is on the start and turns.

Getting into a tight streamline is extremely important for the dive and turns. Your body speed is about 15 miles per hour when you first dive into the water and about 8 miles an hour when your toes leave the wall on each turn. At those speeds, you need to be in a great streamline, and then hold that streamline all the way through the breakout.

 

Starts and turns are not the only time we need to worry about frontal drag, however. In fact, the only time you can stop worrying about frontal drag is when you touch the wall at the finish of your race. As long as you are moving in the water, frontal drag is imposing its nasty forces upon you.

 

Aside from shaving your body, wearing a tight cap and racing goggles, and squeezing into the tightest tech suit you can afford, there are a number of ways you can help reduce drag on every stroke you take. Here are some examples.

 

Keep your head down. Lifting the head to look forward is a common mistake made by many swimmers and causes two problems. First, it causes the hips to drop in the water, taking the body out of alignment. The straighter the body is, the less the drag coefficient. Second, it creates a small but significant bow wave as the water strikes the forehead of the swimmer in motion. Believe it or not, this bow wave or surface wave is largely responsible for frontal drag.

 

Solution: Practice keeping the head down using the FINIS Swimmer’s Snorkel. Also, try to kick with the snorkel while using the FINIS Alignment Kickboard. This will get your head down more effectively and improve your streamline through the starts and turns.

 

Pull through the water with a high elbow, which is sometimes referred to as early vertical forearm (EVF). How you set up your arm for the underwater pull makes a big difference in the amount of frontal drag you will experience during the pulling motion. It is the upper arm, from elbow to shoulder that causes most of the frontal drag during the underwater pulling motion. By using the high elbow position, the body speed will slow by about 25 to 30 % from the time the hand enters the water (fastest point in the cycle) until it is one foot in front of the shoulder (slowest point). This happens in just a few tenths of a second. If you decide to pull with the hand much deeper in the water, while dropping the upper arm, body speed will slow by 40-50% during the same time period.

 

Solution: Practice the high elbow drills described on The Race Club website (www.theraceclub.com) and in the DVD, The Fundamentals of Fast Swimming. Incorporate the FINIS Forearm Fulcrum into some of your sets. Set up the pull using the FINIS Sculling Paddles, which provide just enough force to feel the correct arm position.

 

Keep your kicks tighter and faster. Bending your knee too much to try to create a powerful kick will cause a tremendous increase in your drag coefficient. The tradeoff is not justified. By kicking narrower but with faster kicks and in both directions you will maintain your speed.

 

Solution: Kick with the Snorkel and Alignment Board so you get used to kicking in the correct body position. Use small fins occasionally, such as Zoomers, to get the idea of kicking in both directions, making sure to maintain pressure on the water. You should practice kicking more than you normally do, because your legs work much harder and faster than your arms do during the swim. Unlike the arms, the legs have no recovery time, until the race is over.

 

Yours in Swimming,

 

Gary Hall Sr.

The Race Club

 

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