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The Portlandian, the Internet's premier source of Tonya News

July 5, 2014 Edition - BANNED IN THE USA EDITION
(C) 2014 Portland Ice Skating Society

We hope that all our readers had a happy 4th of July, and what 
better way to recuperate from celebrating that most American of 
dates but to read about that most American of skaters - Tonya! In 
this issue, we bring information on a new TV documentary 
featuring a clip of Tonya, another attempt at a musical 
adaptation of Tonya's life, and the long overdue review of the 
two Tonya documentaries that screened earlier this year.


This week sees the National Geographic Channel screening a 3 part
documentary series on the 1990s. Entitled "The 90's: The Last 
Great Decade?", it postulates the not altogether surprising 
theory that the biggest cultural influence of that decade was 
scandal and the tabloidization of the media. The second part, on 
July 7, 9pm Eastern, features a segment on Tonya with what 
appears to be new interview footage:

You can view some trailers here - already it's obvious that they 
seem to be recycling the same faces as the other documentaries 
that we've seen, such as Christine Brennan & Connie Chung. And 
strangely, the voiceover on one of these says that Tonya went on 
to win the 1994 Nationals but the images are just of Tonya 
practising at the Clackamas rink:

Variety has a review of the series:

On a similar note Yahoo! has put together a list of TV movies 
about the big pop culture events of that decade:


The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles will be 
holding another performance of their production, "Tonya Harding, 
The Musical" on the 22nd of July. So if you missed the premiere 
performance back in April, and the other one on July 3rd, here's 
another chance to catch it:

Please note that this is NOT the same as the opera/rock opera 
that has been performed previously - it's a totally separate 
thing by a different bunch of people, and with a ticket price of 
five bucks, isn't likely to have the same production values. 
Whether it's pro or anti-Tonya isn't known either.


The last day of June marked the 20th anniversary of the final 
chapter in the affair that has become known as "The Whack Heard 
'round the World". On June 30, 1994, a USFSA committee meeting in 
Colorado Springs stripped Tonya of her 1994 U.S. National figure 
skating title and banned her for life from eligible competition.

America yawned. Tonya was old hat. What would have been front-
page news less than six months earlier was now relegated to a few 
centimeters on the sports page. A couple of weeks earlier a 
former football star's little Bronco ride had kicked off the new 
scandal du jour and banged the final nail in the coffin of 
L'Affaire Tonya et Nancy.

With this in mind we finally review the two Tonya specials that 
aired earlier this year.

ESPN 30 FOR 30: THE PRICE OF GOLD (79 minutes.)

Director: Nanette Burstein

Originally slated to air in November, this entry in ESPN's 30 for 
30 series eventually screened in January of this year to critical 

As expected, the documentary focuses mainly on the events 
surrounding the Clubbing, but it would be naive to expect 
otherwise. It paints a largely sympathetic picture of Tonya as an 

The film starts off with details of Tonya's early life, from her 
birth in Portland to her first interest in skating at around the 
age of 3 (the documentary mentions how she started skating at 
Lloyd but actually shows a clip of Clackamas). Burstein has dug 
up what must be the earliest footage of Tonya in existence, from 
1977, showing that even at the age of 6 Tonya's skills were so 
advanced that she was seen as a skating prodigy.

We then move on to what appears to be the next existing footage 
of Tonya, mostly culled from Sandra Luckow's 1986 doc "Sharp 
Edges", which follows Tonya as she prepares for her first 
Nationals. Clips from this were previously used on "60 minutes" 
in 1994 and in recent years the director has made the complete 
version available on line. Luckow, a Yale film student who was a 
fellow pupil of Diane Rawlinson's, is also interviewed by 
Burstein, and recounts the well-known story of how she saw 
Tonya's mother Lavona beating Tonya with a hairbrush in the rink 
bathroom after a poor performance. We also see Tonya getting it 
on the phone from her mother after failing to do as well as 
expected in a competition. Although these clips have been seen 
before it's useful to see them again with comments by the film-

Ann Schatz, a Portland TV reporter, talks of of Tonya's poverty. 
Skating is described as a "snob sport" in which Tonya was an 

Unfortunately we see little of Tonya's skating during this period 
of the late 80's. Why is a mystery, as footage certainly exists, 
and is easily found on YouTube. Thankfully Tonya's triple axel at 
the 1991 Nationals is shown. Here Tonya gets emotional recalling 
what was obviously the high point of the career. She's clearly 
excited about this - it opened up possibilities for her. But 
skating officials were less enthusiastic, regarding Tonya as an 
embarrassment rather than an asset.

By early 1992, however, Tonya's off-ice problems were dragging 
her down. We see footage of Jeff, sans his creepy moustache, from 
around 1991 or 92, who admits that their marriage is volatile. In 
addition to her domestic troubles, equipment failures meant 
little time to practice, and Tonya eventually lost the 3 axel. At 
the 1992 olympics, a broken blade sabotaged her performance. 
Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 U.S. champion wins gold, then retires. 
It is implied that Nancy was seen as "next in line" by the 
skating establishment, with the trouble-prone Tonya being now 
viewed as old news.

We see how Tonya endured bias from the judges - she recounts an 
incident where a judge ordered her not to wear a bright pink 
dress that Tonya had made herself at any further contests - Tonya 
retorted in typical style, asking if the judge was going to pay 
for a replacement.

At this point, Tonya had a rare stroke of luck. The IOC decides 
to stagger the Winter & Summer Games in order to milk more money 
from the TV networks who have trouble paying for two Olympics in 
one year. This means Tonya would get a second crack at the 
Olympics in 1994, not 1996.


The next section focuses on the Incident.

Theres's footage of Fat Boy Dim - aka Shawn Eckardt - as he turns 
up at the airport "guarding" Tonya as she returns from the 1994 
Nationals. One of the major figures in the plot, he's also one of 
the key witnesses against Tonya, and the doc exposes his lack of 
credibility. "He was such a prolific liar" says John King, an FBI 
agent. But little is said about the details of his lies, such as 
his ridiculous James Bond fantasies. Here we also get what has to 
be the doco's coolest line - the agent's description of Eckardt 
when the Feds put on the heat: "he folded like a cheap accordion" 
- something that sounds like it could have come straight out of 
some 1940's pulp detective novel.

Tonya's first hint that something is amiss comes when she 
receives a call from Ann Schatz at KOIN about a letter, and 
agrees to do an interview. A now-moustachioed Jeff can be seen 
lurking in the background (I think we all have to agree that the 
Gillooly Moustache ranks behind only the Hitler Moustache and the 
70s Porn Star Moustache in terms of bad face-fuzz fashion fads). 
It seems hard to avoid the impression that he's deliberately 
placed himself where Tonya can see him in order to intimidate 

The next section concentrates on the media circus and contrasts 
the bedlam at the Clackamas rink with the relative peace & quiet 
that Nancy was afforded as she rehabilitated her knee. The poor 
quality of this footage of Nancy implies it was shot with a cheap 
domestic camcorder, probably by Jerry Solomon or a member of 
Nancy's family - i.e. there were no press present, a total 
contrast to what Tonya had to endure.

Skating magazine publisher Mark Lund emphasizes that Nancy was 
protected from the media - Tonya wasn't. Tonya at first is 
polite, but the novelty quickly is seen to wear off. We learn 
that coach Diane Rawlinson's house was bugged. "Nobody did the 
grey - NK looked wealthy" is the message. As Ann Schatz says, 
there was an attitude of "go get Tonya". We see how flashbulbs 
going off hinder Tonya's training. 

Then it's off to Norway. The media harrassment continues with 
Connie Chung's abortive attempt at interviewing Tonya, and then 
we endure the farce of the joint practice at Lillehammer forced 
upon both skaters by the lunkheads at the IOC. This does a good 
job of showing what Tonya had to put up with. It was also here 
that Tonya meets Nancy for the first time after being implicated 
in the scandal. She says Nancy refused her apology.

The rest of the Norway stuff is familiar territory - Tonyaphiles 
are shown watching the Short Program at what appears to be a bar 
in Portland, then we endure the tragedy of the broken shoelace in 
the Long. Tonya says she is disappointed that she did not manage 
to do the Triple Axel, but it's also hinted that CBS is 
disappointed by Oksana Baiul's victory, spoiling what they 
anticipated would be the perfect ending with Nancy winning gold. 
Nancy's fall from grace began immediately, as she is caught on an 
open mike bemoaning the delay in the medal ceremony.

Upon her return to Portland, Tonya pleads guilty to "hindering 
prosecution" and is subsequently handed a life ban by the USFSA. 
Tonya is clearly upset here - if the Triple Axel was the high 
point of her career that she recalls with great pride, the ban is 
obviously the low point. She had nothing to fall back upon: 
having devoted her entire life to figure skating, she had no plan 
B. Paul Wylie is less sympathetic, saying he thinks the ban is 

There is then a short "where are they now?" segment, with a few 
seconds of Tonya's boxing attempts briefly shown.

The final part of the documentary focuses on the obvious question 
- what did Tonya know and when? It does a good job of demolishing 
the credibility of her accusers.

Jeff Gillooly, the only one of the conspirators Tonya knew 
closely, changed his story and cut a deal to rat on Tonya. Shawn 
Eckardt, whom Tonya barely knew, and Shane Stant, whom Tonya 
never met at all, also changed their tunes. A clip is shown of an 
interview Stant did with Larry King in 1994 in which he states he 
has "no doubt" of Tonya's involvement, but when tracked down 
recently by Burstein admitted he had "no direct contact" with 
Tonya, and couldn't say for certain if she knew.

District Attorney Norm Frink describes Tonya's plea deal as 
cutting her losses - one could say the same thing about him. He 
claims that it is Tonya's writing on the so-called "Tunee Can" 
note - but admits not all the writing is Tonya's.

Did she know? Luckow says yes. Burstein doesn't say on camera, 
but in other interviews has said yes.


This documentary is clearly one of the better ones on the 
subject. It does a good job of showing the media harrassment - 
Tonya couldn't sleep or practice - and a good job of building a 
largely sympathetic portrait of Tonya. There is a better variety 
of people interviewed (such as Tony Kornheiser, Ann Schatz, Norm 
Frink and Sandra Luckow) than the usual faces that appear in 
these things. The absence of Nancy does not hurt the documentary 
- it's actually good as it allows more time to be devoted to 
Tonya, who as the director admits, is more interesting. Nancy 
does appear by proxy, however, in the form of her husband/agent 
Jerry Solomon. 

Unfortunately the documentary falls apart in the last 15 minutes.

Tonya has a brain explosion. She's understandably angry about the 
shoddy way she has been treated by the media & the skating 
establishment. She accuses Nancy of being whiny about the medal 
ceremony. A typical reaction from many viewers was "I was now 
rooting for Tonya until this happened". This has been seized upon 
by Tonyaphobes as proof she hates Nancy.

There are other shortcomings that both this doc and the NBC one 
suffer from that I'll mention later. But all up, essential 
viewing for anyone interested in the scandal.


NBC's "NANCY AND TONYA" (75 minutes)

NBC's crack at milking the 20th anniversary, entitled "Nancy & 
Tonya" and hosted by Mary Carillo, aired on the last day of the 

As its name suggests, it's mostly about Nancy, and there's 
nothing wrong with that - they've got her as an exclusive and 
this is the first time she's really talked about this. It's 
probably the first real Nancy doc actually done. However it does 
mean that combined with the shorter running time than the ESPN 
doc the Tonya aspect is naturally more superficial.

It starts off with NK skating while commenting in voiceover - "I 
would have chosen another path". We see her daily life as a 
mother driving her kids around to ballet practice. Then we're 
full-on into it with footage of you-know-what. Nancy says that 
the kids know, but they don't discuss it much.

We're shown footage of Nancy skating at an early age. The 
impression is of a shy, gangly-looking girl, a dorky duckling who 
later grows up into a beautiful swan, characterized by a shyness 
and modesty that is often mistaken for stand-offishness by those 
that don't know her (she explains that she was taught not to wear 
her medals as this was considered "bragging"). The image is of 
somebody who is an extrovert on ice, but introverted off it. We 
see that the difference between the two skaters is alot less than 
we are often led to believe by the media - both were from blue-
collar backgrounds, Nancy also originally a tomboy with short 
hair who liked to jump. The difference is that Nancy was prepared 
to play the game and become ladylike while as Tonya wouldn't. As 
Christine Brennan puts it, Nancy did a "deal with the devil" and 
"Tonya wouldn't play the game".

There were a couple of other differences: Nancy, with her tall 
slender build, found it easier to look graceful & elegant. Plus 
her coach, Mary Scotvold, knew Vera Wang, a former figure skater 
turned fashion designer and persuaded her that providing the 
costumes for an up-and-coming skating champion would be a good 
form of product placement. Tonya, with her short, stocky body and 
asthma attacks had to make do with Couture by LaVona, which isn't 
anywhere near as fancy as it sounds.

We then move over to looking at Tonya. The stuff here isn't 
really anything new, though we do see more of the Tonya '77 
footage and some newly-shot material at the end of her doing 
landscaping. However from the very start there's bias apparent: 
we start off with Tonya doing dreadful karaoke. This is about a 
skater, not American Idol - her singing ability is irrelevant. Is 
this trying to make Tonya look like a joke? 

There's more footage from "Sharp Edges", and an interview with 
Tonya's coach Dody Teachman, one of the few new Tonya-side 
interviewees spoken to. We see Tonya's 1991 Triple Axel - 
Christine Brennan (who was also interviewed in the ESPN doc) and 
Scott Hamilton praise Tonya's Triple Axel, and Tonya makes it 
clear she's proud of that too. Nancy also has kind words to say 
about Tonya's skating: "she was dynamic & strong & powerful, 
which I liked - she jumped huge".

Nancy & Tonya disagree about whether they were "friends" - Tonya 
says yes, Nancy says no. Dody Teachman says that Tonya was only 
friendly with those skaters she didn't see as a threat.

Nancy recalls her first Olympics at Albertville, when she had a 
good time, saying it "felt really great". Tonya's experience 
wasn't so good, arriving late and jet-lagged and bombing out. 
Tonya admits to Mary Carillo that she didn't train. She then 
fires Dody Teachman, though Teachman thinks that Jeff probably 
had something to do with it.

While Tonya's career nosedived during '92 and early '93, Nancy's 
skyrocketed, with her taking the 1993 Nationals title. One mis-
step was at the World's in Prague in 1993 where Nancy had a 

Then it's that fateful day in Detroit. Brennan claims that 
although she did make cracks at the time about Tonya being 
responsible, she was only joking and did not seriously believe in 
Tonya's involvement at that stage. Tonya says she was sleeping 
when her choreographer woke her with the news.

Eckardt is again shown with Tonya at the airport (she denies he 
was ever her "bodyguard") and we get to see his CV in which he 
once worked for the "BLACKSTONE CORPORATION" in "LAUSANGE 

Again we see the media circus. It's described at one point as 
being like "reality TV before reality TV". It was all absurd: as 
Phil Hersh comments "nobody would have bought the screenplay, 
even as a comedy - too preposterous". Christine Brennan describes 
the noise of the cameras going off every time the two skaters 
passed each other during the Lillehammer practice as "like 
firecrackers going off". She speculates that with today's social 
media it would have reached critical mass alot faster. Tonya 
herself is clearly angry at how she was treated. Nancy contrasts 
the experience with Albertville, and this time it's much less 

We then get to the Long Program. Scott Hamilton, who was 
commentator for the event, reveals his anger at the time, that he 
thought the shoelace incident was "not legit". Tonya felt stress 
coming on as her body cooled down, and skated 35 mins later. 
Hersh speculates that Tonya was doomed from the start, noting 
that it "kinda had to end that way" - that Tonya's career "wasn't 
going to end on an upbeat". Tonya might have been able to jump 
high, but in the end she couldn't reach the escape velocity 
necessary to overcome the gravitational pull of the trailer park 
and was ultimately dragged down.

Tonya herself praises Oksana's abilities. Nancy explains her side 
of the medal ceremony affair, saying she was concerned that 
people were leaving and that she thought Oksana was the hold up 
(it was actually caused by a delay in finding a copy of the 
Ukrainian anthem). She also says that her complaining at 
Disneyworld was about having to wear her medal, not about Mickey 
Mouse. Brief clips of her critically-panned "Saturday Night Live" 
appearance are also shown.

As with the ESPN doc there's not much post-incident stuff 
included - some of Tonya on "World's Dumbest", and the Fox 
"Breaking The Ice Special" which Nancy participated in in what 
she now admits was a naive assumption that it would make it all 
go away.

Brennan finishes by saying "Tonya Harding is the ultimate 
survivor. You can make the case that no-one pulled themselves up 
by the bootstraps in the history of the sport more than Tonya 
Harding." Hersh is less sympathetic, saying he doesn't buy that 
Tonya was a victim too.


The final part, a 6 minute interview between Nancy & Bob Costas 
is the most interesting and worthwhile bit, as we finally get to 
hear what Nancy thinks about Tonya - and surprisingly, she seems 
to be alot more sympathetic and gracious about Tonya than many of 
the other commentators. She praises Tonya's athletic ability, 
saying that she admired Tonya's power, and that Tonya "always had 
it tough" and "feels like she's on the defensive all the time". 
She also confesses that she doesn't really know if Tonya was 
involved more than she has admitted, but says she doesn't care 
and that it's time to move on. 

"You feel bad for her, to not have that stable home," Nancy says 
about Tonya. "I am so lucky. It wasn't easy. I remember counting 
quarters and my parents counting money to buy groceries. But I 
lived in one place with two parents and it was stable. I had 
grandparents two houses away ... It's not like I was a princess. 
I happened to have good posture so I looked the part, I guess. In 
figure skating that is what we do. We stand up and straight. But 
I feel for Tonya. When you see someone struggle from the 
beginning, that's hard and I feel for her. It doesn't excuse her 
judgment. But I hope now, not just for my sake, but her sake too 
-- she has a family -- let's move on. You have to allow people 
the chance to get on with their lives and to be better and learn 
from mistakes. But I don't feel like this film resolved anything 
for me. I mean, I was attacked. I was the victim."

She seems to have made her internal peace with Tonya, and it 
seems, Mickey Mouse as well, revealing that her kids are huge 
Disney fans.


As expected, it's mainly about Nancy. If you're a Nancy Kerrigan 
fan, it's essential viewing as it's probably the most in depth 
documentary about her so far.

I found myself having a new respect for Nancy and her 
achievements. We come away realizing that she & Tonya had alot 
more in common than most people realize and that Nancy was also 
originally an athletic type skater like Tonya but was able to 
make the transition to being artistic in a way Tonya couldn't. 
The NBC doc makes the point that they both lost their fathers 
within a year of each other, something I hadn't really thought 
about. At least Tonya's dad went of natural causes, not in the 
violent way Nancy's dad did.

From a Tonyaphiles perspective, it's of less value, mainly a 
retread over old ground. There's no real attempt at analysis of 
the evidence. There's a clip of the interview in 2008 when Tonya 
claims she was raped, which isn't shown in the ESPN doc, but 
that's it. Being pro-Nancy does not automatically mean having to 
be anti-Tonya & vice-versa. In terms of interviews, there is 
little creativity in the people chosen. With the exception of 
Dody Teachman, its mostly the same old people we've seen before - 
not the variety seen in the ESPN one. Three participants are 
anti-Tonya: Brennan, Hamilton and Hersh.

The most interesting bits are that we finally get Nancy's take on 
Tonya, which is surprisingly positive and more respectful than 
alot of Tonya's critics. She was obviously very impressed with 
Tonya's jumping ability. Plus the "rich ice princess versus 
scheming trailer trash" narrative was exposed as the steaming 
load it's always been - we find that both skaters came from 
working-class backgrounds, and that Nancy was originally a jumpy 
athletic tomboy like Tonya was. The main difference was Nancy had 
stability in her family life and chose to go down the artistic 
side of skating, while as Tonya didn't.


Twenty years on, this incident continues to fascinate. Perhaps 
it's because Tonya/Nancy is to scandal what "Die Hard" is to 
action films - about as perfect as you can get. And because 
Tonya/Nancy screams "1994" in the same way that "Do The Hustle" 
screams "1975". It's something that defines its era.

The result has been two high-profile documentaries that can be 
seen as mirror images that to some degree complement each other. 
I'd say ESPN's effort was 66% Tonya/33% Nancy while the NBC one 
was the reverse. But both films have their shortcomings.

Although the media circus is covered, there is nothing in 
either about the Wedding Night Video or the hacking of Tonya's 
email by reporters in Lillehammer, two further indignities Tonya 
had to endure.

They also suffer from some pretty weird omissions. I've already 
mentioned the lack of skating footage from the late 80's in 
"Price Of Gold". There's little about the fan club started by 
Elaine Stamm in early 1993. Strangely neither mention the death 
threat Tonya received in November that year either. This is 
critical as it was more of the type of crap Tonya had to put up 
with. Skating official & well-known Tonyaphobe Morry Stillwell 
circulated an email at the time claiming this was faked, an 
accusation he has repeated recently on FSU. It's also important 
as this seems to be when the mysterious Shawn Eckardt enters the 
picture as Tonya's "bodyguard".

There is not enough on the post-incident life of either skater in 
either documentary. "The Price of Gold" briefly shows a clip from 
Tonya's short-lived boxing career, but that's pretty much it. 
Bizarrely, Tonya's 1999 comeback skate in Huntington WV is not 
shown by either doc - bizarre because it was at an ESPN 
competition, so it's their own footage. NBC mentions Tonya on 
"World's Dumbest", and the Fox "Breaking The Ice" thing, and 
shows her doing landscaping. The past 20 years are basically 
condensed down to about 3 minutes. There's no mention of her 
acting attempts, or her "comeback" in Reno in 1997. Or her Land 
Speed Record that she holds. And what about an acknowledgement of 
Tonya's charity work for a change?

One thing that I would like to see in a documentary, apart from a 
critical analysis of the paucity of evidence against Tonya, is an 
examination of the pop culture legacy of this story and why 
people are still interested in it (as they plainly are) so many 
years on. Twenty years on we have everything from operas to drag 
queens doing dramatizations of the event. Academics write
papers about the class/gender implications of the scandal and how 
it led to the tabloidization of the media. Presidents make cracks 
about it in political speeches. At Halloween parties across the 
USA, crowbar wielding "Tonyas" pretend to club bloody-kneed 
"Nancys" - I've got a whole folder of photos of people doing 
these "re-enactments". There was even a pair of Tonya/Nancy 
lookalikes who turned up at a fun run in Alaska a couple of years 
back. And then of course there was Jim Maxey and his site with its crude Tonya "fantasies" section, 
or the loony who thinks Tonya is the reincarnation of Lee Harvey 
Oswald. Neither doc has anything on this, apart from ESPN showing 
the Obama clip.

What about a bit of creativity when it comes to interviews? An 
interview with someone like Sarah Marshall, who wrote the 
"Believer" article, would be nice, or long-time Tonya supporters 
like Linda Lewis or Michael Rosenberg (the latter spoke up in a 
recent article), rather that exhuming the same old mostly anti-
Tonya corpses of Brennan, Hersh, Hamilton, Wylie et al. The NBC 
one is particularly a let-down in this area. Overall the ESPN one 
and the writers of the various 20th anniversary articles seemed 
to make a better fist of trying to contact a diverse array people 
rather than the NBC guys, who just took the easy route.

It would be nice to try and track down the footage of Tonya's 
1993 NHK performance if it exists - it was Tonya's poor showing 
in this event that supposedly inspired the plot in the first 
place, and apparently it was never shown on Japanese TV, which 
"chacked" everybody except the medal winners and any local 
skaters. Is it still gathering dust in NHK's archive? It seems 
hard to believe they would have wiped it in the wake of Tonya's 
sudden notoriety less than a month later.

All this would be something new, rather than merely a reheating 
of the events of '94 (which has been done in plenty of other 
previous documentaries that can easily be found online, such as 
"Anything To Win") followed by the obligatory "where are they 
now" segment?

In short, both are worth a look, particularly the ESPN one which 
is the better of the pair from a Tonyaphile's perspective. I'd 
give that one 7 out of 10 for being relatively pro-Tonya and 
making more effort in terms of research and diversity of people 
consulted. I'd give the NBC one the same - but only because we 
finally get Nancy's take on the whole deal, including Tonya. The 
NBC Tonya material is mostly an unimaginative rehash, and without 
Nancy I'd give it a 5. If you're a Nancy fan you'd probably bump 
it up to an 8. But they both seemed to be wasted opportunities. 
The definitive Tonya/Nancy documentary has yet to be made. 
Hopefully we won't have to wait until the 40th anniversary in 
2034 - the next time a major anniversary of the incident 
coincides with a Winter Olympics - for this to happen.


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