Adam Hugh

June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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February 18, 2014

Adult vs. Junior Classes

Last night was the first session of the new beginning/intermediate class I'm teaching at MDTTC, Mondays from 6:30-8:00PM. (Here's the flyer.) The class is for beginners up to roughly 1500 level. We had eleven in the class, but one apparently dropped out and another had to miss the first session, but emailed that he'd be there next week. John Hsu, an ITTF certified coach, assisted.

There's a huge difference between teaching adults and teaching kids. Adults have more patience, and so you can lecture and demo a lot longer, and they have lots of questions. Do that with kids and you get a lot of impatient kids. Kids rarely ask questions other than ones like "Are you almost done?" or "When's break?" Working with kids is fun, and you can develop top players from them, but teaching adults is often more interesting because you can go more in depth on each topic. There were lots and lots of insightful questions. Let's face it, I could talk two hours non-stop on any table tennis topic, so I have to restrain myself!

We covered four things in the first session. First was the grip. I went over what a neutral grip is and why players should use it while developing their strokes. (I wrote about this in this Tip of the Week, Should You Use a Neutral Grip?) Then I went into proper ready position, as well as the relationship between the two. (I wrote about this in another Tip of the Week, Feet and Grip. A related Tip is Use a Wider Stance.)

Then we went into the forehand drive. John and I demoed it, and then I went over the basics of the shot. Then the players went out on the table and practiced.

The final thing covered was serving and spin. First I went over the rules. Then I showed and explained how to get great spin on a serve. Part of this included using soccer-colored balls so you can see the spin, and having the players toss the ball up and spin it off their racket and catch it so they could work on grazing the ball, making it spin, and controlling the direction of the ball when spinning it. (I explain all this in this blog entry - see second segment.) Then it was off to the tables again to practice.

At the end of the class I demoed some serves, and nobody wanted to go. So I spent an extra ten minutes letting them take turns trying to return my serves while I threw all sorts of variations at them.

Next week we do some more forehand practice, and then cover the backhand drive, side-to-side footwork, and deception on serves.

ITTF Level Three Coaching Course in Trinidad and Tobago

Here's the ITTF article on the course, to be taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

Western Open Results

Here they are. (Set dropdown menu for Western Open, held this past weekend in Berkeley, CA.) Here are photos of the winners of each event.

Elite Multiball Training

Here's video (25 sec) of some multiball training at the Lily Yip Center in New Jersey.

Ma Lin's Touch

Here's 16 seconds of Ma Lin alternating dropping balls short and backhand flipping.

Top Ten Shots from the Kuwait Open

Here's the video (4:08) from the Kuwait Open held this past weekend.

Eleven Curious Facts about Zhang Jike

Here they are! (Did you know he was a championships high jumper?)

Ten Reasons You Should Start Playing Table Tennis

Here they are!

Happiness is…

Here's the cartoon.

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November 4, 2013

Tip of the Week

Tournament Toughness. (Also covered is the question that's been raised a lot over the years: Should a player play a rating event if he's eligible but who has improved beyond the rating event cutoff?

Coaching Darren O'Day

On Friday last week I had a 90-minute coaching session with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He's a 6'4" submarining reliever who had a 2.18 ERA in 68 games last year (the best record of any Oriole pitcher), a 2.28 ERA the year before in 69 games, and a lifetime record of 20-9 with a 2.62 ERA. These are great stats! (That is why he makes $3.2 million/year.)

Readers of this blog know that on May 13 I coached Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder and current Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson, and that on August 21 I took four of our players to the Orioles clubhouse (they have a table) where we did a demo and played them for three hours. Here's a video (1:19) made of the visit at Orioles.com, and here's another video (5:28) played on Orioles Extra TV. Here's a group picture.

While at their clubhouse, several players asked for my business card for future lessons. (Even Chris Davis asked for one.) And so, out of the blue, I got an email from Darren last week asking for lessons. The session was from 1:00-2:30 PM on Friday. Local schools were closed that day for some teacher meeting, and so we were running a mini-camp - and so a number of our junior players were around to watch.

Darren, JJ, Brady, and over half the Orioles have been playing table tennis in their clubhouse almost non-stop the last few years, and it shows. As I blogged before, over half of them play at the 1200 level or better, led by JJ (pushing 1900 level) and Brady (pushing 1800 level). Steve Pearce is probably the next best (1500?), with Darren probably next at around 1400, just ahead of a number of others. JJ and Brady have pretty good technique, with one major exception - JJ tends to hit his shots with the racket tip pointed up a bit, which is good for blocking - and JJ blocks aggressively at a pretty high level. But it's not so good for hitting and looping.

Darren had copied this tip-up technique from JJ, so the first thing we worked on was keeping the racket tip down a bit. He also had a tendency to roll his racket over at contact (i.e. close it), by raising his elbow. So we also worked on that. On the backhand he tended to reach for the ball rather than move - in contrast to his forehand, where he was more mobile. So we did some side-to-side backhand drills where he had to step with his left to move left, step with the right to move right. We also worked on a slightly wider stance so he'd be lower to the table, with more stability when moving and stroking.

He had learned to put some spin on his forehand serve, probably by watching JJ, who has pretty good serves. But he was using the same grip to serve as he played, and so wasn't getting much wrist into the serve. So I showed him how to change the grip to maximize the spin on his forehand pendulum serve.

So the focus of the first session was forehands (including a lot of smashing drills), backhands, footwork, and serves. Like most professional athletes, he was great at focusing on one topic to perfect it, and picked things up quickly. He, JJ, and Brady all that the same "Get it right!" attitude, and were willing to do any technique over and over until it was perfect. He was surprised at how physical table tennis was.

He's signed up for regular lessons now, once a week. (I can't disclose the times publicly, but I might do so for some locals who want autographs or photos.) He also said that Tommy Hunter is interested in lessons, so we might work him into my schedule next. (When he paid for the lesson, he even left a nice tip!) 

After the session he hit for about half an hour with Crystal Wang (11, the top girl of her age in the country), and Raghu Nadmichettu (one of our other coaches and a former USA Men's Singles Quarterfinalist at the Nationals) - they went easy on him. He posed for pictures at the end. Here's a picture, L-R: Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Darren O'Day, Crystal Wang, and me (Larry Hodges). Photo by Chris Zhang.

I have a new nickname. I'm "The Oriole Ping-Pong Whisperer."

ITTF Trick Shot Competition - Who/Hugh Should Win?

They are down to five finalists. USA's Adam Hugh's in the lead, but he's in a close two-way race. (Ironically he's actually in third place as well with his second video, but all that counts is first, so he'd rather you focus on that one - the one where he's bouncing the ball on the end of his racket and then making a long-distance serve into a bowl - this one.

It's been a while since USA has won a "world title," so let's bring this one home! Voting ends at 6:59PM USA eastern time (EST), which is 11:59 GMT. Here is a message from Adam on what you need to do:

Hi everyone, 

Thanks to all of your support, I have made it into the final round of the ITTF trick shot contest! This stage is a Facebook vote and takes only a few seconds to do. If you enjoyed my videos and want to help me win,  please vote before the poll closes on Monday. All you have to do is:

1) Click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=721598834536789
2) Click "like" for the photo

And that's it :) If you want to help more, you can always "share" it too so your FB friends can help but that's completely up to you. Anyway, I truly do appreciate everybody's support through this entire process and, regardless of the outcome, I just want to say thank you. I wouldn't have even made it this far. 

Best,
Adam

In fairness to the others, here's the home page for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. Late last night the ITTF put out on their Facebook page the following note:

Due to a really close view count between 5th & 6th position, we have shortlisted 6 instead of 5! They are: Adam Hugh 1 (377k), Josep Anton: (330k), Adam Hugh 2 (322k), Matt Hetherington (275k), Bruchle (256k), Daniel Ives (254k). Have you voted for them in the Poll yet? Stay tuned, we will be announcing the winner tomorrow, 5th Nov!

Ping-Pong Fitness

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

You Call It Ping Pong We Call It Table Tennis!

Here's a new highlights video (9:22) set to music with lots of slow-motion play.

Mary Had a Little Lamb - Ping-Pong Style

Here's the video (15 sec) - by Rich Heo, and I'm jealous because I used to do this, but never got it on video!!!

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October 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should you Choose Serve, Receive, or Side at the Start of a Match?

Knee Problems

Yes, just a couple weeks after getting over about ten days of arm problems (where I had to cancel or get substitutes for a lot of coaching sessions), now it's my right knee that's acting up. I hurt it on Saturday at the very end of my last session, with John Olsen and Kevin Walton. We normally do nearly 90 minutes of multiball each session (they take turns), then do live drills or games the last 30 minutes or so. I was playing John a game, and he returned my serve to my wide backhand. I stepped around to loop a forehand, and as I put weight on my back (right) leg, I felt something go in the knee. I made the shot, and the rally continued, with me hobbling about fishing to keep the ball in play. Then he went to my wide forehand, and I tottered over for the shot, again putting weight on the knee and aggravating it. We stopped play after the shot.

I did a lot of group session on Sunday, where I limped about. I did one private coaching session where I staggered around in live drills, but fortunately did a lot of multiball so I wouldn't have to shamble around the court running down balls. (Okay, I think I've finally run out of acronyms for "hobble.")

I'm resting it today (my day off), and have only one session tomorrow (Tuesday). But then things get busy again on Wed and Thur. I'll sort of get Fri-Sun off, as I'll be coaching at the South Shore Open in Indiana where hopefully I won't leap to my feet to celebrate some victory and hurt the knee again. Because then I'd be forced to stumble about next week.

How I Taught Serves in Class Yesterday

On Sundays at 4:30 I have a 90-minute session with about 12 beginning kids, ages 7-11. I'd already taught them how to serve legally. Yesterday I introduced them to serving with spin. This is always a tricky subject to teach since they don't have the fine coordination yet needed to really graze the ball and make it spin. Worse, they get little feedback from their shot since they can't really see how much it's spinning. So as I always do, I brought out the ping-pong soccer balls.

First I showed them how to change their grip so as to get extra wrist on a forehand serve. Then I demoed a few serves, showing them backspin serves that bounced back into the net and sidespin serves that curved dramatically. This always gets their attention. Then I showed them a simple exercise to learn to create spin. Hold the racket in front, forehand side up. Then tilt the left side up a bit. (Lefties reverse.) Then toss a ball up, and spin the left bottom of the ball so it goes straight up with spin. Catch the ball, and repeat. After demoing this with a soccer ball, I gave one out to each of them. This way they could see how much spin they were creating as they hit the ball up, and they really like spinning the ball. After a few minutes practicing this, I showed them how to do this with a serve (forehand backspin and sidespin serves), and then sent them out on the tables to practice.

RGIII Response Video Postings

The RGIII Video Response went semi-viral, with over 10,000 views. I'm told it was shown on the NFL Network, but I haven't actually got an eye-witness to that. Anyone see that or have a video of it? Or know of any showings not listed below? Definite online showing are at:

2013 USA Nationals

The deadline for the USA Nationals was extended to Oct. 25, this Friday. Hope to see you there!

Interview with Xiao Zhan

Here's a video interview (4:51) of one of the Chinese National Team Coaches, about how he got started, coaching young players, and talent identification. In Chinese with English captions.

The Kenta Matsudaira Sidespin Block

Here's an article and video analysis of the Japanese star's sidespin block, a rare shot among the world's elite that mostly consists of looping or counterlooping everything.

Physics of Table Tennis

Here's an article explaining the Magnus Effect (how spin makes the ball curve), using Adam Hugh's ITTF Trick Shot Competition entry as an example.

Kreanga vs. Tokic

Here's a great point between these two (54 sec).

The Eight Stages of Every Player

Here's the funny but accurate appraisal! So where are you on this?

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are some pictures.

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October 15, 2013

RGIII Response Video

On Friday, Robert Griffin III (alias RGIII, the Washington Redskins quarterback) put out a video (3:22) where he talked about his Olympic dreams. At the end of it (go to 2:57) he jokes that he might make the Olympics in ping-pong.

We at MDTTC decided we were not going to take this quietly. Here is the response video (1:15), put together by Nathan Hsu (17, 2303 but recently 2397), with players Derek Nie (12, 2297), Crystal Wang (11, 2267), and Roy Ke (14, 2261).

LET'S MAKE THIS VIDEO GO VIRAL!!! Post it wherever you can - on Facebook, Twitter, in blogs, any place you can. It's already the Video of the Day at USA Table Tennis, with RGIII's video featured on Friday.

Go Girls

Did you know that girls are dominating the lower age groups in the U.S. right now? Go to the USATT ratings, click on "Customizable Member Lists," and put in the proper settings (make sure to put in a number in the first field), and here's what you get.

In Under 9, the #1 player is Tiffany Ke of Maryland at 1749. (The #2 is Ted Chensheng Li of Texas at 1559.) Among girls, the #2 is Katherine Fang, also of Texas, at 819, almost a thousand points behind Tiffany.

In Under 10, the top two are Youruo Wu and Rachel Sung of California, both girls, rated 1978 and 1906. Tiffany Ke is #4 at 1749.

In Under 11, the #1 is Amy Wang of New Jersey at 2217. Youruo Wu is #4 at 1978, Rachel Sung #6 at 1906, Kelly Zhao #9 at 1796, and Tiffany Ke #12 at 1749.

In Under 12, the #1 is Crystal Wang of Maryland at 2267. Amy Wang is #2 at 2217. Youruo Wu is #12 at 1978.

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team, Part 1

Here's a video (7:41), covering the forehand serve.

Best of Penholder Players

Here's a video (5:56) that shows spectacular rallies and shots by penholders, such as Ma Lin, Xu Xin, Wang Hao, and Ryu Seungmin. Some really great rallies here.

Ping-Pong Ball Fires

Here's an article about a beer-pong ball setting an apartment alight. But that's nothing. Here's a short article about a half million ping-pong balls bursting into flame. (Go to the "Noisier Than Bubble Wrap" segment, but the entire text follows.) "During a heat wave in Hong Kong this summer, a metal container packed with more than half a million ping-pong balls burst into flames. 'The blast was probably caused by air expansion inside the ping-pong balls,' a police spokesperson said."

Alternate Piggyback Pong

Here are two attempts at this incredibly difficult and dangerous version of table tennis. Here are Yahao Zhang and his wife (15 sec), and here are Adam Hugh and Michael Landers (20sec). Do not try this yourself - these are trained professionals!

Non-Table Tennis - Cover of My Novel

My novel "The Giant Face in the Sky" comes out Nov. 15 from Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. It's Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the cover. And here's the blurb on the back cover:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face will have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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September 19, 2013

Yesterday's Coaching Activities

I had three hours of private coaching, then a meeting with others to go over our new junior progress reports.

The first session was with an 8-year-old, about 1200 level, who's struggling to decide whether to be an attacker or defender. He may well be the best 8-year-old lobber I've ever seen; he can lob back my hardest smashes dozens of times in a row as long as I don't smother kill at wide angles. (There's something humorous about a little kid lobbing from way back at the barriers!) He also chops well. He's also got a nice loop from both wings, but has one serious problem on both: he's too impatient to do the same shot over and over, and so it's hard to get him to develop a repeating stroke. Unless I keep a firm hand on the drills, most rallies end up with him looping a couple balls, taking a step back after each, and then he's off lobbing and fishing, and looking for chances to suddenly counter-smash. He's recently faced the realization that if he's going to chop, he'll probably need long pips, which will take away his backhand lob - and he doesn't like that. So we're in a state of flux on whether to train him as an attacker or defender. Ultimately, I'm letting him make the final decision. I've advised him that, unless he very much wants to be a chopper/looper, he should focus on attacking, and he can always switch to more chopping later on. It's a big decision that'll affect the rest of his life!!!

The second session was with an 11-year-old, about 1200 level, who's about to finally start playing tournaments. He's playing in the MDTTC October Open and the North American Teams in November, and perhaps others. He's a big forehand attacker who likes to run around the table ripping forehand loops and smashes. Most interesting part of the session was when I urged him to really develop the backhand (while still focusing on the forehand) - and his reaction was he wanted to practice backhands for nearly half the session. We had some great rallies, and near the end it started to really click in. He wants to really focus on serves as well, and I promised we'd start off next session with that.

The third session was with a 12-year-old who was having only his second session since being away all summer. He's about 1000, but rusty. So we're focusing on fundamentals. He's doing really well in multiball drills, where we did a lot of looping against backspin (both wings) and combinations (loop a backspin, smash a topspin). In live drills he's still a bit too erratic, but it's getting better.

Then I met about what I've been calling the Junior Progressions. These are a series of criteria a beginning/intermediate player needs to fulfill to move from Level 1 to Level 5. At the lowest level, players need to bounce the ball on the racket a certain number of times, demonstrate proper grip and ready position, know the basic rules, hit a small number of strokes, etc. As they move up, it gets harder; at Level 5 they have to hit 100 forehands and backhands and demonstrate a few counterloops. We're still finalizing and testing them. We'll be using them for the first time later this fall. Once I'm more confident we have the right criteria, perhaps I'll publish them. (We'd been shown examples of how some other programs did this, such as AYTTO.

The Importance of Lobbing

Here's the latest USATT Tip of the Week, another of the ones I wrote.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in Austin

Here's the ITTF article on the coaching course Richard McAfee ran in Austin, TX last week.

Adam Hugh's Juggling No-Look Target Serve

Here's the entry of former USA team member Adam Hugh to the ITTF Trick Shot Showdown Contest. "Your move." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

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