The London 2012 Paralympic Games begins Thursday 30 August with a spectacular opening ceremony that will begin with a fly past by Aerobility, a British charity that trains disabled people to become pilots, and include the parade of competing nations, over 3,000 adult volunteers, a cast of over 100 children and 100-plus professionals and culminate in the lighting of the Cauldron which will signal the start of the Games.
Sporting events begin Friday morning Australian time. With so many medal events and opportunities to watch Australian Paralympic talent, use this communications centre to keep track of what to watch, who to keep an eye on and when you can catch the hottest events.
With some Paralympic sports featuring different rules, scoring systems and progression which are different to their Olympic equivalents, we’ve included a short guide with each sport to ensure you don’t miss anything. With a bit of trivia, some history and important names to look out for, read up and you’ll sound like a seasoned Paralympic sports nut.
For a full schedule of the events and programming on host broadcaster ABC TV, please visit the ABC Paralympics homepage.
For full details about the sports, rules and the Australian Paralympians at London 2012, please visit the Australian Paralympic Committee homepage.
Archery has been on the sports schedule for every Paralympic Games since the first Games in 1960 and at the Stoke Mandeville International Games for the Disabled, the 1948-precursor of the Paralympic Games.
Medals for Archery are awarded in W1 (quadriplegic), W2 (paraplegic) and W3 (standing) categories.
Just as with the Olympic Games program, the range of Paralympic sports grow and evolve over time. At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Compound Archery was accepted as a separate medal event, in addition to the classic Recurve archery. This is one example where Paralympic sport is more progressive than its Olympic counterpart where only Recurve events are held.
The Paralympic competition will be held at The Royal Artillery Barracks. The 18th Century Barracks are a stunning architectural backdrop to the shooting ranges and one of many wonderful displays of London’s architecture on show during the 2012 Paralympic Games.
The competition starts on the first day of the Paralympic Games (30 August) with medal events on the 3, 4 and 5 September. Unfortunately, there are no Australian athletes competing but the host nation, Great Britain and the indomitable Chinese team will be hungry for medals.
Cycling is a very popular event at the Paralympic Games and promises to be huge in London 2012 with 225 athletes competing in 32 medal events. As the third-most popular event, Cycling is broadly split between Road Cycling to be held outdoors at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent, and Track Cycling which will beheld indoors at the Olympic Park Velodrome.
One of the reasons for Cycling’s popularity is its inclusiveness. Across both Track (velodrome) and Road Cycling there is a wide variety of bikes for people with a range of disabilities. In some events athletes within different classes compete together with the winner determined by a mathematical formula.
Cycling was originally introduced into the Paralympic sports schedule as a sport for vision impaired athletes. Using tandem bikes, a sighted “pilot” sits in the front while the vision impaired athlete drives from the back.
Technological developments have since created innovative new bike designs, allowing people with a range of physical abilities to compete. Hand cycles are arm-based bikes which can be used by riders who may have a range of trunk, arm and leg impairments and tricycles can be used by athletes who have poorer balance. Bicycles can be modified to compensate for each rider’s needs and, according to need, assistance is provided with mounting, starting and stopping.
Australia has 15 athletes competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, including three pilots. Included in the Cycling team is Jayme Richardson-Paris who attended Jasper Road Public School and Doonside Technology High School. Jayme is 23 years old and has cerebellar ataxia, a complex motor disturbance which affects her coordination, balance, gait and eye movement. She will be competing at both the velodrome and racing circuit in the 500m time trial, 3000m individual pursuit, road time trial and road race events.
Cycling events occur throughout the Paralympic schedule with Track Cycling from 30 August to 2 September and Road Cycling from 5-8 September.
Equestrian Dressage is a display of elegance and harmony between horse and rider. With a history of international events since the 1970s, Equestrian was introduced to the Paralympic Games program in Atlanta 1996.
Equestrian is open to athletes with visual impairments or other physical disabilities and uses a classification system to ensure that competition tests fairly judge the skill of the rider. Athletes compete in two events as individuals: a Championship Test to a set program of movements, and a Freestyle Test composed by the athlete and set to music. There is also a Team Test where three or four riders compete together against other teams.
Equestrian will be held at Greenwich Park, London’s oldest enclosed Royal Park with history dating back to 1433. With stunning views of the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Equestrian events are held on a raised aluminium, steel and plywood platform so as to not disturb the grounds after the Games.
There are 78 athletes from around the world competing in Equestrian events for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Australia is sending a team of four, so be sure to look out for Grace Bowman, Hannah Dodd, Joann Formosa and Rob Oakley in their Equestrian events from 30 August to 4 September.
A challenging and physical sport, Goalball has the distinction of being developed specifically for people with a vision impairment. Originally invented for blind veterans of World War II, the sport was first introduced to the Paralympic Games schedule in Toronto 1976.
Unlike most Paralympic events, Goalball has no classification system. All athletes wear blackout goggles so that those with partial vision and total vision loss can play together fairly. Each team is composed of 3 athletes seated on an indoor basketball arena with netted goal posts (like those used in soccer) at each of the court.
One competitor hurls a ball towards their opponents who then drop to the floor and stretch out to protect their goal area. Bells inside the ball alert players to its location on the court, so that absolute silence from the team and spectators is required in the venue.
Goalball is held at the environmentally-friendly Copper Box stadium which is clad in over 3,000 square metres of recycled copper. Featuring 88 light pipes in the ceiling, daytime events require very little electric lighting and all rainwater is collected for use in the showers and toilets.
Representing Australia in 2012 is a team of six girls called the Aussie Belles who were not expecting to qualify until the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Hopes for gold are high with their surprise 2012 qualification and all eyes will be on promising national Goalball champion and Castle Hill High School graduate Michelle Rzepecki.
Goalball at the London 2012 Paralympic Games begins 30 August 30 with both men’s and women’s medal event finals on September 7.
The only martial arts event at the Paralympic Games, Judo is an action-packed sport open to athletes with a vision impairment. Judo was introduced as a men’s only event at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games with women’s events introduced in Athens 2004.
Rather than dividing athletes by vision impairment, Paralympic Judo uses the traditional weight categories to provide 13 total medal events. So that rules and scoring is applied fairly, B1 category athletes (i.e. athletes who are blind in both eyes) wear a red circle on their uniforms and are not expected by Paralympic officials to recognise the red border edge of the contest area. If an athlete is deaf as well as vision impaired, they wear a small blue circle on their uniform.
Judo retains many characteristics from its Japanese heritage. Uniforms are called Judogi, and competitors are called Judoka. Hajime (to begin) is the referee’s command to start and ippon is the maximum score that wins an athlete the match. Besides the language, the competition is held on a traditional tatami mat and competitors must bow to each other before and after each match.
Unfortunately there are no Australian Paralympians competing in Judo at the London 2012 Paralympic Games - however there are plenty of opportunities to watch this impressive sport with seven medal events for men and six events for women. The first events for the lightest categories begin 30 August and finish with the heavyweight categories on 1 September.
One of the fastest-growing sports at the Paralympic Games, Powerlifting is the ultimate test of upper-body strength. With 200 athletes competing in 20 medal events, each weight category is going to be hotly contested this year.
Although Weightlifting was first introduced to the Paralympic Games program in Tokyo 1964, the sport now known as Powerlifting is a far more inclusive event than it once was. Open to any athlete with cerebral palsy or spinal injuries, lower-limb amputees and other groups, events are categorised by weight group rather than by disability. The winner is the athlete who bench-presses the largest weight in their category.
Australia has two experienced athletes competing in Powerlifting this year, Abebe Fekadu and Darren Gardiner. Silver medallist at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, the 2006 World Championships, the European Open and the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, all eyes are on Darren Gardiner as he attempts his final shot at Paralympic gold.
With 20 events occurring from 30 August to 5 September, there are plenty of opportunities to watch Powerlifting at the London 2012 Paralympics. Men’s and women’s events are evenly spread over the seven days, with the lower weight categories competing first and the heaviest categories last.
An exciting test of accuracy and control, Shooting has been part of the Paralympic Games program since Toronto 1976. Because of the wide range of firearms and distances possible, at one point Shooting involved 29 medal events. Since the Sydney 2000 Games the events have been reduced to 12.
The Shooting program consists of rifle and pistol events across 10m, 25m and 50m distances. There are separate events for athletes who can support the firearm themselves (SH1) or for those who require a stand for support (SH2). Points are awarded according to which ring is hit on the target board.
The Paralympic competition will be held at The Royal Artillery Barracks. The 18th Century Barracks is a stunning architectural backdrop to the shooting ranges and one of many wonderful displays of London’s architecture to be showcased during the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Australia has a team of six shooters participating in the London 2012 Paralympic Games in both SH1 and SH2 men’s and women’s events. Shooting occurs over seven days from 30 August to 6 September with medal events every day, so there are plenty of opportunities to see Australian competitor action in Shooting this year.
A fast-paced and exciting sport, Sitting Volleyball is a combination of Volleyball and a German game called Sitzbal. The game became popular in Europe during the 1960s and was introduced as a companion sport to Standing Volleyball for the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games. Standing Volleyball, part of the Paralympic line-up since Toronto 1976, was removed for Athens 2004.
Sitting Volleyball only has two medal events for the men’s and women’s finals. This doesn’t mean that there is any lack of action, however. With nearly 200 athletes competing for top spot, competition is fierce and games are in play for 10 days of the Paralympic Games.
The sport has a unique classification system which divides players into disabled (D) and minimally disabled (MD) categories. Minimally disabled athletes are those who played Volleyball and sustained a significant injury to their ankle or knee, making them eligible to compete in Sitting Volleyball. Only one MD category athlete may compete per team and all athletes are required to stay on the ground with their pelvis in contact with the floor. Each side gets a maximum of three hits before the ball must be passed to the other side and service blocks are allowed.
Unfortunately, there is no Sitting Volleyball team representing Australia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games - however, watch out for the brand new Great Britain team in their first entry since 1980. Previous winners China (women’s) and Iran (men’s) are expected to hotly contest their places and this year USA is seen as serious contenders. Sitting Volleyball will be in play from 30 August to 8 September, with the medal event finals occurring in the final two days.
Behind Athletics, Swimming is the second largest event at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. With 600 athletes, including 35 Australians, and 148 medal events, Swimming is one of the key events to watch this year.
Swimming at the Paralympic Games is very inclusive, open to athletes with a wide range of physical, visual and/or intellectual impairment. Medal events are held according to classification with 1 to 10 indicating a physical impairment (1 being most impact, 10 being least), 11 to 13 indicating a visual impairment, and 14 indicating an intellectual impairment.
The letter ‘S’ before the class number represents freestyle, backstroke and butterfly strokes, ‘SB’ for breaststroke and ‘SM’ for the medley event. The same athlete may compete in S7 and SB6 medal events, for example, if their impairment impacts their ability with breaststroke more than any other stroke.
Separating the events by classification ensures that times and swimming ability are judged fairly and also allows for assistance in starting and finishing without providing an unfair advantage to one athlete over another. It also means that there are a plenty of medal events to watch, 148 in total over 10 days of the Paralympic Games!
The mammoth competition will be held at the Aquatics Centre at London’s Olympic Park. A state-of- the-art aquatics facility, the venue is a tribute to the innovative architecture employed for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Featuring a unique curved roof, the tall wing-like stadium seating looks striking and, after the Games, will be removed to leave a much more compact and usable facility for the community.
In line with the scale of Swimming at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the team includes a large number of current and former NSW public school students in its ranks:
Table Tennis has been a permanent feature in the Paralympic Games since the first Games in Rome 1960. Originally only for seated (wheelchair) athletes, events for standing players were introduced for the Toronto 1976 Games. Ironically, it was not until Seoul 1988 that Table Tennis was included in the Olympic sports program, one example of the Paralympic Games being more progressive at introducing new sports.
While Australia has a relatively small showing – a team of 2 – Table Tennis is a huge event internationally. With 29 medal events, 276 competitors and 11 separate classifications, this exciting competition runs for all but one day of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Table Tennis events are broadly separated into seated (wheelchair) athletes, standing athletes and athletes with an intellectual disability. To keep competition fair, there are five classifications within the seated and standing categories, with separate medal events for each. Seated events are classified between 1 and 5 and standing events between 6 and 10, based on the impact the impairment has on the athlete’s ability to compete. Class 11 is for athletes with an intellectual impairment and no physical disability.
Within each class, there are events for individuals, doubles and team competitors. Medal events for individuals and doubles occur on 2-3 September with team medal events occurring on 7-8 September. All eyes will be on Australians Melissa Tapper and Rebecca McDonnell, both very experienced athletes in standing events who have competed in international events for able-bodied and disabled athletes.
Across track, field and road events, Athletics is the biggest and most varied competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Promising to draw huge crowds and the biggest haul of medals, Athletics provides a total of 170 medal events – more than any other competition.
Athletics events at the Paralympic Games are divided between track, field and road. Track events include sprints, middle distance, long distance and relays, field events include throwing and jumping, and the famed marathon is the one road event. Within each event is a wide variety of classifications, allowing athletes to compete within their ability level. For a detailed explanation of the classifications, have a look at the Australian Paralympic Committee website or watch the video below:
One of the forty-three Paralympians representing Australia in Athletics at London 2012 is Blayney High School and Charles Sturt University graduate Kurt Fearnley. Kurt competed at the Sydney 2000 Games in front of a home crowd, won gold in the marathon at the Athens 2004 Games, pushing his chair through a flat tyre for the final 5km. In Beijing 2008, the 31-year-old won silver in the 800m and bronze in the 1500m, before going on to win gold at the marathon.
For London 2012, Kurt is hoping to go three-for-three, battling his Great Britain rival David Weir for marathon gold. You can watch Kurt in the men’s T54 marathon on Sunday 9 September.
Also representing NSW government schools in the Athletics is Stephanie Schweitzer from Baulkham Hills High School and Kristy Pond from Sherwood Ridge Public School. Both are first time Paralympians, and have shown much promise in international sporting events including the 2011 Global Games in Italy and the 2008 Pacific School Games.
Athletics events at London 2012 run from 31 August through to 9 September. Check out the Paralympic schedule to ensure you don’t miss out on your favourite event.
Certainly not one to miss, Wheelchair Basketball is one of the most popular and action-packed sports at the Paralympic Games. Using specially designed titanium wheelchairs, athletes play according to rules which are almost identical to Olympic Basketball. The same rules for travelling apply, distance shots earn three points, and the size of the court and height of the basket are the same.
Wheelchair Basketball was originally developed in the USA as a rehabilitation program for World War II veterans. The sport quickly gained exceptional popularity and was a foundation sport in the first Paralympic Games in Rome 1960. This year, in London 2012, there are 12 countries competing in men’s events and 10 countries for women’s events, with Australia sending a team for each.
As the name implies, Wheelchair Basketball must be played in a wheelchair but the game is open to people with a range of lower body impairments. Using a unique point system, athletes are classified by how much their impairment affects their ability to move and participate. With the most impairment graded as 1 point, and the least impairment graded as 4.5 points, the sum of all five team members on the court must not exceed 14 points. This allows for a mix of players without giving one team unfair advantage over another.
There are only two medal events for Wheelchair Basketball, the men’s and women’s finals. This doesn’t mean there is any lack of action, however, with games progressing from the beginning of the Games on 30 August all the way through to 8 September.
Football at the Paralympic Games is divided into two events, 7-a-side and 5-a-side, giving football (or soccer) fans plenty of opportunities to watch at London 2012.
Football 7-a-side is the older of the two sports, first introduced for the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. Paralympians with cerebral palsy or an acquired brain injury play 7-a-side and there are eight teams representing Russia, The Netherlands, Ukraine, Great Britain, Argentina, Iran, USA and Brazil competing for gold at London 2012.
Athletes are classified between FT5 and FT8, with the latter being the fastest and most agile players on the field. Each team must have at least one each of FT5 and FT6 class athletes and no more than two FT8 class athletes. Football 7-a-side is played on a field roughly three quarters the size of a regular football pitch.
Football 5-a-side is a more recent addition, making its Paralympic debut at Athens 2004. Paralympians with a vision impairment play 5-a-side, except for the goalkeeper who may be fully sighted. Play is coordinated by dividing the field into thirds, with both teams having sighted guides calling out directions for each third of the pitch. Beside the goalkeepers, who act as one of the three guides, all players must wear blackout shades to allow athletes of all vision impairment to play together. Eight teams representing Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Argentina, Great Britain and Spain will be competing for gold at London 2012.
The two Football programs occur on alternating days across the London 2012 Paralympic schedule, with 5-a-side starting Friday 31 August and 7-a-side starting Saturday 1 September. Football 5-a-side has its medal event finals on Saturday 8 September, with 7-a-side following on Sunday 9 September.
First devised in 1976, Wheelchair Tennis is a test of skill, fitness and strategy. Since its development as a rehabilitation program, the sport has proven to be exceptionally popular with full integration into all four Grand Slam Tennis events and over 170 tournaments around the world. Wheelchair Tennis was first introduced to the Paralympic schedule in Barcelona 1992 and London 2012 will see 112 athletes compete for six medal events.
In terms of rules, the only difference between Tennis and Wheelchair Tennis is that the ball is allowed to bounce twice. Besides that, wheelchair players must display exceptional speed, agility and precision to cover a full-sized court.
Wheelchair Tennis has separate events for Open class athletes and Quad class athletes. Open players have full use of their hands and shoulders and compete in separate men’s and women’s events. Quad players have an impairment which affects both their arms and legs and compete in mixed events. There are singles and doubles events for both Quad and Open classes with games in play from 1–8 September.
Australia has a team of four athletes – the maximum allowed – competing in Wheelchair Tennis at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. All four are competing in Open events and, with promising results at various international Wheelchair Tennis events, Paralympic gold is hotly anticipated.
The newest sport arrival to the Paralympic program in London 2012 is Rowing which makes its second appearance since its introduction in Beijing 2008. For such a new sport it is very popular with 96 athletes competing for four medal events.
Rowing in the Paralympic Games is divided into three events and each broadly aligns with the three Paralympic classifications. LTA class athletes who have a vision impairment and/or have use of their legs, trunk and arms, compete in the coxed four event. This is a mixed event where men and women compete together and includes a coxswain directing the team of four rowing athletes.
TA class athletes who have ability in their trunk and arms, compete in the double sculls event. This is also a mixed event for two rowers. AS class athletes, who have ability in their arms and shoulders, compete in single sculls. There are medal events for men and women in the single sculls.
Rowing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games will be held at the Eton Dorney Rowing Centre outside London. Set in a 162 hectare nature conservation area, Dorney Lake is a 2200m eight lane rowing course surrounded by beautiful English countryside and is the same venue used for the Olympic Games program.
Australia has a team of three competing in Rowing at London 2012. Kathryn Ross and Gavin Bellis are competing in the mixed double sculls event and Erik Horrie will compete in the men’s single scull. All eyes will be on silver medallist Kathryn, who missed gold at Beijing by an extraordinarily close 0.08 of a second.
All Rowing medal events are held on Sunday 2 September with the possibility of an overflow into 3 September. Prior to the finals, Rowing events will be held from Friday 31 August.
Sailing is an important sport for Australia, and promises to be one of our strongest events at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. First introduced in Sydney 2000, after a trial at the Atlanta 1996 Games, this year will be a hot competition with 80 athletes battling it out over four medal events.
Sailing consists of three separate medal events, for individuals in the Single-Person Keelboat (or 2.4mR), pairs in the Two-Person Keelboat (or SKUD18), and teams of three in the Three-Person Keelboat (or Sonar). All three events are mixed and athletes with a wide range of abilities compete together.
Each event consists of 11 races held over 6 days from 1–6 September. In each race, points are awarded according to position with the winner awarded one point, second place awarded two points, etc. With the final race on 6 September, the individual or crew with the fewest total points is declared the winner.
Australia is sending a team of 6 – the maximum allowed – to compete in Sailing at London 2012. There is a boat in each event with former Sydney to Hobart participants and some of the best sailing talent in the country competing for gold.
The pair to watch in the two-person SKUD18 race is Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch. Tesch, a teacher at Brisbane Water Secondary College – Woy Woy Campus, is a five-time Wheelchair Basketball Paralympian and a participant in the 2009 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This is her first year competing in Sailing at the Paralympic Games and she is determined to win an elusive gold medal at London 2012.
Just as determined, Fitzgibbon won silver in Sailing at Beijing 2008 and the pair has already shown promise with a gold medal at the 2011 Sailing World Cup in Miami, USA.
The Sailing program starts on 1 September.
A similar sport to Boules, Boccia is a test of muscle control, accuracy and extreme concentration. Played by athletes with cerebral palsy and related locomotor conditions, players throw, kick or use a ramp to aim leather balls at a small white ball called the jack.
Games are separated into four player classifications with individual, pairs and team events, with a total of seven medal events. With 104 athletes competing in London 2012, competition will be tense, so expect to see some amazing performances this year.
Each classification event is played slightly differently with Paralympians of the same ability playing together. In BC1 events athletes throw the ball and may have an off-court assistant, whereas in BC2 events no assistance is allowed. In BC3 events, athletes use a ramp, which an assistant helps to manoeuvre but cannot watch the game, and in BC4 events athletes use an underhand pendulum to release the ball. BC1 and BC2 are mostly reserved for Paralympians with cerebral palsy, whereas BC3 and BC4 events are for those with other locomotor conditions.
Unfortunately there are no Australians competing in Boccia at the London 2012 Paralympic games. Watch this space, however, with a team currently in training for qualification for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Medal events for Boccia occur on 4 and 8 September, with games in play from 2 September.
One of the original Paralympic sports, Wheelchair Fencing was developed after World War II at Stoke Mandeville, England the birthplace of the Paralympic Games. A fierce, fast-moving sport, the only Paralympic events faster than the tip of a fencing sword are the bullets in shooting and arrows in archery events.
Wheelchair Fencing is played by athletes with wheelchairs affixed to a frame. The frame allows enough movement for lunging and swerving but keeps competing athletes in a fixed position to each other. This means that Wheelchair Fencing has much quicker and fierce sparring action than Olympic Fencing.
There are many opportunities to watch Wheelchair Fencing with 12 medal events across Épée, Foil and Sabre competitions. There are events for men, women and mixed programs with two athlete classifications and two team events.
Athletes are classified by their upper body ability and compete in separate individual events. The two team events – men’s Foil team and women’s Épée team – are mixed category with athletes with different abilities competing together. There are individual medal events for women’s Foil and Épée, and men’s Foil, Épée and Sabre.
There are no Australians competing in Wheelchair Fencing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. China dominated the competition at Beijing 2008 with six gold and six silver on the medal table but this year’s host, Great Britain, is expected to make a strong showing. Both Hong Kong and France are traditionally strong at Wheelchair Fencing so competition for the top spots is high. There are medal events on each of the five days of play from 4–8 September.
Developed in Canada in 1977, Wheelchair Rugby was originally positioned as an alternative to Wheelchair Basketball, allowing quadriplegic athletes to compete on equal terms. The sport has quickly grown and, in many countries, especially USA and Australia, it is one of the key events for our competitors at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Famed for its intense physical intensity, the sport incorporates elements of basketball, handball and ice hockey and is fiercely competitive. Athletes of all physical abilities compete together and a classification system gives each Paralympian a point value between 0.5 and 3.5 depending on their level of mobility. To ensure fair competition, the total on-court value for each team cannot exceed eight points.
Tension will be high at London 2012 with USA and Australia in close competition for the top spot. Currently Australia is a close second to USA in the international tables and a gold medal will turn things around for the Australian team.
Wheelchair Rugby is played on a basketball court with specially designed anti-tip wheelchairs. Contact between wheelchairs is allowed but physical contact is outlawed and results in a penalty, depending on how the court official judges the foul. Four players from each team compete and are given just 40 seconds to score a goal once they gain possession of the ball. The game is extremely fast-paced and makes exciting, if brutal, viewing.
Wheelchair Rugby is played in a round-robin format with games in play from Wednesday 5 September. The finals occur on 9 September, the last day of the Games.
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