“For me, winning the Olympic silver medal at that time felt like a shock, the end of my entire life.” Big interview with Anjelika Krylova
Translation of a big interview with Anjelika Krylova.
source: sports.ru dd. 18th May 2023 by Natalia Marianchik
Anjelika Krylova never won an Olympic Games, but she is remembered as an exemplary ice dance partner from the 90s.
Together with Oleg Ovsiannikov, they won gold at the World Championships twice, but they were surpassed by the explosive Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
After that, Krylova lived in the United States for a long time: she coached, got married to Italian ice dancer Pasquale Camerlengo, and gave birth twice. A few years ago, she unexpectedly returned to Russia to start from scratch. Now, Krylova’s students, Vasilisa Kaganovskaya and Valeri Angelopol, are the country’s top young ice dance team. Angelika is perceived more as their coach than a figure skating star.
We met with her to rectify that perception.
Your aunt is a People’s Artist of the USSR, ballerina Bernara Karieva. She lived in Uzbekistan, and you were in Moscow. Did you ever meet?
Anjelika Krylova: Of course. When I was around 10 or 11 years old, still competing as a single skater, I was given a program to the music from the ballet “Raymonda.” I needed a ballet costume, and it wasn’t easy to find costumes back then. So my mom and I flew to Tashkent specifically to borrow a costume from my aunt. I performed at the Moscow Championships in an actual costume that she used for her own performances.
Later, when I was already living in the USA, my aunt would come to visit. She was proud of my achievements. And I think my dancing talent is definitely influenced by her…
You come from a mixed family. Were you brought up in Eastern traditions?
Anjelika Krylova: My mother is Russian, and her relatives are from Tver. My father’s family still lives in Tashkent. My grandmother partially followed the traditions. For example, she cooked pilaf, and my mom still cooks Uzbek pilaf to this day. There was some influence from the East, but overall, we were an ordinary Soviet family. My parents had no connection to sports: my dad is a lawyer, and my mom is a paramedic. I was put into figure skating more under the influence of television. It was fashionable and popular, much like it is now with “Ice Age” on TV.
I started training at the “Young Pioneers” stadium with Zinaida Podgornova. She was a good specialist for young children. But when I came to her at the age of 6 or 7, I was completely unprepared. She already had strong kids, and I hadn’t really trained before.
Podgornova didn’t see any special talent in me: my knees were stiff, and I lacked grace. Miraculously, she agreed to take me, but I was undoubtedly the weakest in the group. That’s when my mom got involved: since we ended up with such a good coach, we needed to catch up!
How did it look?
Anjelika Krylova: I will never forget how my mom worked with me on stroking steps and gliding on the open rink. But dreaming about professional sports was difficult. What international victories could I dream of when I was closer to the bottom ranks at the Moscow Championships? There were kids much stronger than me.
I struggled with double jumps, my triple toe loop was inconsistent… But my desire to train was enormous. I didn’t even think that I could skip the 7 a.m. practice before school. It continued like that until Zinaida Ivanovna (Podgornova) advised me to switch to ice dance when I was around 12 or 13. Nowadays, this transition happens much earlier, but back then dance pairs were not formed until 12-13 years old.
For many singles skaters, switching to ice dancing means accepting a demotion in the rankings and admitting defeat.
Anjelika Krylova: That’s exactly how it was. I went to Elena Tchaikovskaya’s tryout with tears in my eyes. Tchaikovskaya didn’t even want to look at me at first, saying she needed boys, as there were already plenty of girls! But my mom begged her to give it a try. After the first training session, Tchaikovskaya said that I had potential, and she was willing to take me. I skated with her alone for a whole year, searching for a partner and struggling.
Until Vladimir Lelyukh appeared.
Anjelika Krylova: Yes, his family had just moved from Krasnoyarsk, and I had no experience at all. We skated together in the junior category for two to three years. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but it wasn’t particularly good either. For example, we never qualified for the Junior World Championships. Perhaps I still lacked technique, and Volodya was a bit too small as a partner for me. Although even then, people started talking about us as a promising team.
Over time, we parted ways, and I started skating with Volodya Fyodorov in the group of Natalia Linichuk.
With Fyodorov, you won bronze at the World Championships in just two years and qualified for the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer.
Anjelika Krylova: When I look back, I can’t even understand how we managed to rise so quickly. Usually, it takes years, even decades, to achieve that. But somehow, the judges immediately noticed us, and we burst onto the podium. We had successful programs, especially the “Cha-Cha-Cha.”
But an Olympic year is special; there’s a lot of politics involved, and not everything depends on the performance. At that time, I took the 6th place at the Games as a huge disappointment. Although now I understand that for us, especially considering the insane level of competition, it was a tremendous achievement.
Do you remember the first trips abroad?
Anjelika Krylova: Birch trees along the road to the airport, the scent of Sheremetyevo – for some reason, it’s etched in my memory. Happiness: we were so young, vibrant, surrounded by beautiful things…
The first time we went to Turkey for exhibition performances. We had a Gypsy dance, and we won the local audience with it.
Later we went to the bazaar and bought a fur coat made of some scraps for around 30 dollars. I wore that fur coat for a very long time. We didn’t have much money, so we mostly brought sports clothing. The real earnings started when we moved to America.
How did you meet Oleg Ovsiannikov?
Anjelika Krylova: At the post-Olympic World Championships in 1994 in Japan, I had a serious fall during practice, I smashed my face and my arm. We couldn’t finish the tournament and had to withdraw. Vladimir Fedorov was very supportive, we skated together for all those years. But Linichuk decided that we needed to part ways.
I took it as a personal tragedy, I was deeply upset. Parting with Vladimir felt like losing a friend. It was very difficult to meet and tell him about this decision. I think he took it hard as well.
But Natalia Vladimirovna (Linichuk) convinced me that Oleg was a promising partner, and with him, we would achieve higher results. I trusted her.
It’s interesting that Vladimir later skated with Anna Semenovich.
Anjelika Krylova: Yes, they also moved to America, and we trained in the same group. Over time, the passions subsided, and we remained friends. I believe Anna was a great match for him; they could have been a strong pair. But something didn’t work out, and then she started skating with Roman Kostomarov.
What was your first impression of Ovsiannikov?
Anjelika Krylova: We didn’t immediately find a common language. The main problems were on the ice: he had a completely different school, a different training style. I constantly felt uncomfortable, conflicts arose during practices. It took about a year and a half for us to adjust.
In life, we interacted normally but nothing more. When you skate with someone for so long, they naturally become close to you. Although there was never any romance between us, the spark never ignited. He had his personal life, and I had mine.
In the mid-90s, you and the whole group moved to the USA with Linichuk. How was that?
Anjelika Krylova: Linichuk arranged a deal with the University of Delaware, and they housed us in a dormitory. We arrived in June and lived there for three months until the students’ classes started. Tiny rooms, intense heat without air conditioning, and a few minutes’ ride on a bicycle to the rink.
Naturally, nobody knew the language properly, and like all former Soviet people, we had quite a few complexes. We were just struggling there. It wasn’t until autumn when we managed to rent a big house where we all lived together: Oleg and I, Ira Romanova and Igor Yaroshenko, and later Ilia Averbukh with Ira Lobacheva…
I understood that, on one hand, having a Russian community around us was great, but on the other hand, it was impossible to learn the language in such conditions. There was no time for language courses either. So I started a little dictionary, wrote down new words and phrases there, and tried to communicate with Americans as much as possible. After a few years, I was speaking fluently.
What did you miss the most?
Anjelika Krylova: I missed friends and communication a lot. We were so young, I turned 21 a month after we left. The coolest age, and suddenly I was alone in a foreign country. I missed my mom, who used to accompany me everywhere before. Nowadays, you can make unlimited video calls. But back then, phone calls were expensive, and it was often difficult to get in touch with home.
At some point, I seriously considered returning. Linichuk, as it seemed at the time, gave us very little time. She was always busy and had no time for us. She had time for the American pairs but not for us. And we were a new pair with completely different backgrounds. We needed a lot of work, including individual attention.
At that time, we were very upset with her, “Why did you bring us here if you don’t have time for us?” Now, as a coach myself, I understand that she needed to work with Americans to secure ice time for us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had access to the rink at all. And she did it for us, not because she didn’t care.
At the end of the first season in the USA, Oleg and I went to her for a conversation: “Natalia Vladimirovna, we have challenging, fast-paced programs. Nothing is working out. Either we work with you more individually, or if you’re not interested in us, we’ll return to Moscow.”
After that conversation, she reconsidered many things and started paying more attention to us.
Did you have enough ice time? Where did you get it if everything was scheduled between the Americans?
Anjelika Krylova: The university gave us ice time only during the hours when it was free from paid groups. Even during the preparation period for World Championships or the Olympics, we skated only at 9 in the morning and 9 in the evening. It was a crazy schedule: you finish training at 11:30 PM or midnight, then you can’t fall asleep for a long time, and at 7 AM, you have to get up and go for warm-up before the next training session.
The whole day was theoretically free, but without proper rest. You couldn’t go anywhere, visit a cafe, and so on because there was an evening training session ahead. As a result, you go to the store, cook food, and then lie down, chat with someone, or watch TV. Psychologically, you’re under pressure 24/7.
Nowadays, my athletes finish both training sessions at around 3:00 PM or 3:30 PM. It’s much more convenient: you have a whole free evening left.
Oksana Grishuk said that with time Linichuk started betting on your pair, and because of that, she and Evgeni Platov had to leave for Tatiana Tarasova before the 1998 Olympics.
Anjelika Krylova: After the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, when Oksana and Zhenya won and Fedorov and I finished sixth, Linichuk said at a press conference that she was hoping for younger skaters. I know for sure that those words were only said because she thought Grishuk and Platov would retire.
She was never indifferent to them, on the contrary, she loved Oksana. Grishuk is a very talented and hardworking person, a magnificent skater, although she could be eccentric at times. For some reason, she always remembers that phrase from Linichuk. Although I never felt anything like what Oksana was saying.
While you were still training on the same ice as your main competitors – Grishuk and Platov, was there a tenstion?
Anjelika Krylova: We worked in that mode for so long that I got used to it. I truly didn’t feel any anger or irritation. Rather, on the contrary, we knew what we needed to do in a specific training session, and we calmly did it. Then the coach would give us feedback, and we would continue skating.
Maybe there was no jealousy because we were completely different pairs in terms of our characteristics. Oksana was small, Evgeni was tall, and they easily performed difficult elements that were inaccessible to us due to my height. I was about ten centimeters taller than Oksana. We had our strengths, and we came up with many elements ourselves. Sometimes we would go to Linichuk’s house to discuss the program or music. So, everyone had an individual approach.
You had very vibrant and completely different programs in style: Russian folk dances, “Carmen,” African drums… How did you choose these concepts?
Anjelika Krylova: I am a versatile dancer and could execute any concept with quality. Many skaters stick to one style throughout their career, but that’s not me.
The decisive word in the choice of music always belonged to Linichuk. Even if we strongly disliked the program, as was the case with the African dance, she knew how to convince us and insist on her decision. In general, we all existed in the paradigm: whatever Natalya Vladimirovna said, that’s how it would be.
For example, I was against skating “Carmen” at the 1998 Olympics. Clearly, visually it suited me, but I found the theme itself tiresome and overused. I wanted something fresh, even Spanish, but not “Carmen.” I started working on that program almost under duress.
Moreover, your “Carmen” is completely different from the classical version. It’s more like modern.
Anjelika Krylova: I won’t hide that it bothered me. But that was Linichuk’s desire – sharp, intense neo-modern. I personally prefer more classical movements. If I were to choreograph that dance as a coach now, it would be different. But at that time, our coach saw us in that particular image.
For me, winning the Olympic silver medal at that time felt like a shock, the end of my entire life. It’s one thing when you go to the Olympics knowing you won’t win. It’s another when it’s so close…
Why do you think you lost?
Anjelika Krylova: The federation didn’t care which of the Russian pairs would win. But there was an understanding that Grishuk and Platov would retire from amateur sports after the Games anyway. And we, especially if we lost, would definitely stay for another 4 years. Why be left without leaders when they could guarantee keeping us? I don’t see any other reason for our second-place finish.
We were well-prepared and definitely not skating worse. Later, I read an interview with Zhenya Platov where he talked about his injured knee. It didn’t seem to me like they prepared for that Olympics as intensely as we did. It was more of a victory based on their previous achievements and technical skills.
Grishuk and Platov were a magnificent pair, undoubtedly. But many said that we also deserved to win. Unfortunately, there’s only one Olympic gold.
You retired just a year after Nagano-98 due to a back injury.
Anjelika Krylova: My back had been hurting for a long time, probably since 1996 when we skated the “Russian Dance.” I tried to get treatment: I found a manual therapist myself and went to him almost every day. The coach applied ointments to me, and I constantly took painkillers because even getting a pain-relieving injection in America was a problem. One doctor’s visit there cost $250, and without it, no one would give me an injection. You couldn’t afford much with those prices.
It was like this: whether it hurt or not, whether you were tired or not, you got up and went to work. I don’t even remember if we took vitamins or supplements. Nowadays, athletes have a psychologist, a nutritionist, a physiotherapist, and who knows what else… They rush to a specialist for every little thing. If I had such conditions back then, like figure skaters have now, I would have probably skated for a longer time.
Maybe if I had returned to Moscow after Nagano, they would have treated me seriously and given me rest, and I could have recovered. I was young, 25 years old, and I really wanted to continue. I could have skated for another 4 years and won the Olympics. But working at the same intensity, without any breaks, I wasn’t physically prepared for that.
Did you try to explain to Linichuk that you needed time to recover?
Anjelika Krylova: Of course, I tried. She would reply, ‘It’s nothing, apply some Finalgon (ointment for joint and muscle pain – ed.) and go skate.’ Natalia Vladimirovna is very principled, tough, that’s her approach. If she insists on something, it’s pointless to fight it. I quickly realized that there was no point in trying.
I worked with her for 10 years; she raised me as an athlete. We didn’t have major conflicts, and I accepted these rules of the game: you have to do as she says. We never even adjusted the programs considering my injury. Although my back was always hurting: sometimes tolerably, but sometimes so much that I could barely get out of bed.
At what point did you realize you would have to retire?
Anjelika Krylova: In 1999, the pain in my back became unbearable. We started working on programs for the next season, but I quickly realized that with daily training and new complex routines, my injury wouldn’t allow me to skate at the level we aimed for.
I honestly told Oleg that I couldn’t continue performing anymore, but I wouldn’t be offended if he decided to continue with another partner. He was a prominent partner and wanted to keep skating, so why not? But he decided it would be better to stay with me and perform in shows.
You witnessed the heyday of American shows in the early 2000s. How was that?
Anjelika Krylova: It was an amazing time! We traveled a lot throughout the United States and also went on European tours. One year, we performed in Stars on Ice, and it was at its peak at that time. Skaters like Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Katarina Witt, and from our side, Ilia Kulik… It was a dream team, especially Witt – a legend! I admired how seriously she prepared for each show. She cared about the jumps, came early for warm-ups, and approached every performance with maximum professionalism.
It was fantastic to skate in packed arenas with well-designed lighting. Sometimes, they would send a private plane for us so that we could make it to the next city. In New York, we were taken to musicals, to Phantom shows. We went out, had fun, it was great. I remember those years as pure fun.
You also participated in the Russian show ‘Ice Age,’ but only once in 2009.
Anjelika Krylova: When Ilia Averbukh called, he caught me somewhere in a store in America. I was stunned by the offer but agreed without hesitation. Although I already had two children – my son had just turned one, and my daughter was three. Plus, I was working as a coach with a strong group of dancers.
I called my mom from Moscow, and she supported me, so I went. It was very interesting, great, and unusual. It’s a shame I had to leave the project early, but I simply couldn’t stay in Russia anymore because I needed to return to work in the USA.
Do you watch ‘Ice Age’ now?
Anjelika Krylova: Of course. There are interesting characters and discoveries. I’m amazed at how non-professionals perform tricks that even real figure skaters can’t always replicate. But all of that comes closer to the end of the project, in December, when the actors’ skills improve.
At what point did you realize you would stay living in the USA?
Anjelika Krylova: By the end of my amateur career, Oleg and I had already settled in Newark, Delaware, where we trained. We bought an apartment there and arranged our lives. The main problem was that I didn’t have coaching work. Shows are temporary.
I suggested to Natalia Vladimirovna that I work as her assistant coach. I really wanted to gain experience from her, but apparently, she didn’t need helpers in the form of me at that moment.
And then my future husband, Pasquale Camerlengo, and I were offered to move to Detroit and work at their club. That’s how we ended up in this city.
How did the transition to the role of coach and choreographer go for you?
Anjelika Krylova: I always wanted to do this. At first, it seemed like it would be easy: I’ll take a pair now, they’ll immediately show something, and we’ll break into the elite. When I’m interested in something, I always have plenty of energy and a feeling that I’m ready to move mountains. But I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be easy in this new role. In the very first U.S. Nationals, they placed my pair in sixth or seventh place, even though I thought they should be in the top three.
I sincerely didn’t understand why. I tried to ask the judges, but they refused to talk to me. They no longer saw me as a two-time world champion; they treated me more like a novice coach without experience but with huge ambitions. I had to forget about the past and start from scratch. And only when I competed in various competitions, interacted with other coaches and judges, I felt that I was becoming a part of this environment.
How did you and Pasquale divide responsibilities? He was the coach, and you were the choreographer?
Anjelika Krylova: In the USA, working with athletes is individual. A pair can take lessons from different specialists even within one day. Pasquale and I usually made agreements: for example, he would work on the program, and I would refine the hand movements. It was a creative process; we were constantly coming up with new things. But the final decision was always up to him. I didn’t promote myself as a choreographer since he was much more experienced. That’s why I especially like being able to make decisions myself now.
Although, honestly, even now I would like to work with him if there was such an opportunity. We have long ago found a good rapport in terms of figure skating.
You mentioned that in the USA, you work with skaters calmly and respectfully, but in Russia, you had to learn to shout and scold, otherwise, the athletes wouldn’t understand.
Anjelika Krylova: There is definitely a difference in communication style. By nature, I am a calm and kind person; shouting is not my thing at all. But sometimes you come to a practice all calm and fluffy and then you see: here, the leg isn’t extended, there, the push isn’t completed, they missed the point here… And gradually, you get worked up and start shouting.
In the first year in Russia, I couldn’t do that at all, but now I’ve learned. What can you do if athletes are raised that way from childhood? Otherwise, you can’t get through to them.
Does it happen that in the heat of the moment, you offend someone, and then you scold yourself for it?
Anjelika Krylova: I guess I never went too far. Everything was fair. Rather, I scold myself for not being able to stay within the limits and getting too worked up. It’s frustrating when you want to give the athletes your maximum, but they’re not ready to take it.
Your pair Vasilisa Kaganovskaya and Valeri Angelopol had their first season at the senior level. Are you satisfied?
Anjelika Krylova: They were recognized this year, which is important. Although they were already known in the junior ranks, I believed in them from our very first season together.
It’s important that they won the Russian Cup Final against older, more experienced athletes. Although the path to this victory was not easy. We started the season very well, went through two stages of the Russian Cup, and were preparing for the national championship. But right before it, Vasilisa fell seriously ill. We still went to Krasnoyarsk and even tried to skate during practice. But I withdrew them because Vasilisa was truly very ill. There was no point in competing, risking her health, and skating poorly.
Therefore, the only chance for us to make it to the national team was the Russian Cup Final. There were three months between our last competition in the Russian Cup and the Grand Prix – it’s a long time. We had to find ways to keep the skaters in shape by any means necessary. So I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to perform publicly: we skated the free program at the Channel One Cup, we went to St. Petersburg to perform out of competition…
Are the programs for the new season already ready?
Anjelika Krylova: We’re in the process: the free dance is already determined and almost set, and we’re waiting for the rules for the next season regarding the rhythm dance. We’ve almost decided on the music.
The skaters themselves are very creative, and what I like about them is that they are open to all my suggestions. We search together, sometimes I give the direction, and then they come up with their own ideas. And most importantly, they try and go for the elements that I see.
Do you feel that during your time, ice dances were much more interesting than they are now when everyone does roughly the same elements to different music?
Anjelika Krylova: Why make something interesting and dance-like if it takes time, effort, and doesn’t give a decisive advantage? In the past, we built the choreography around a concept. Musicality and artistry were highly valued. That’s why there were many steps, position changes. Now stroking steps and open positions, which were unacceptable in our time, are already part of the system.
I won’t say that dances nowadays are uninteresting, they have just become different. It’s very difficult for girls with tall height because there are many tricks and acrobatic elements. Programs are set “around the elements,” and their arrangement is sometimes pure mathematics. It’s enough for a foot to be slightly angled differently during a spin or for the shoulder to be turned in the wrong direction for the pair not to achieve the required level of difficulty.
For example, when a combinational lift in the beginning of the season takes 18 seconds, but it should be a maximum of 12. Shortening it is a huge task. But the audience doesn’t see that.
How can a person in the stands understand all this?
Anjelika Krylova: Dances have always been subjective. Spectators assess the performance emotionally, whether they like it or not. Of course, I immediately notice the difference in glide, plasticity, and the partners’ positions…
After 20 years of living in the USA, you suddenly returned to your homeland with your children. How did that happen?
Anjelika Krylova: I had been drawn to Russia for a long time, actually. I missed Moscow, which I love very much. I greatly missed the opportunities for personal growth in the USA, from cultural life to interacting with colleagues. I wanted to be closer to my relatives, I dreamt of coaching in my native language, and I wanted to speak Russian everywhere. At first, I found great pleasure in that, but now I’ve gotten used to it.
Our move wasn’t spontaneous; I carefully thought it through. A year before our departure, the children started learning Russian with a tutor so that they could understand something and grasp the basics of writing.
But as it turned out, you can’t predict everything. Almost immediately after we moved, the pandemic began. And just as it ended, the conflict in Ukraine started. Perhaps these were the most unfortunate three years in terms of travel. The children are currently in the USA, and it takes me two days each way to reach them. During the season, I simply can’t be away for that long.
Did your children not speak Russian at all?
Anjelika Krylova: We always spoke English at home, including me with them. Stella and Anthony went to a Russian kindergarten, but so many years have passed, and they’ve forgotten almost everything.
In Moscow, they attended a British school where the education is in English. But during breaks, their classmates still spoke Russian. And somehow, the children quickly began to understand and speak it. It brought immense joy to their grandmother, who doesn’t speak English and couldn’t understand her own grandchildren. Now she calls them, and they chat. It’s a balm for her soul.
Why did the children ultimately return to the USA instead of staying with you in Moscow?
Anjelika Krylova: They are already old enough and approaching the age of entering university. To realistically get into a university, they can only do it in the USA, in English. No matter how well we improved their Russian, taking physics or math exams in Russian is unrealistic. So last September, I took them to the USA.
At first, the separation was tolerable: I immersed myself in work and went to competitions. But now, I truly miss them. Mostly because it’s so difficult to reach them. If planes were flying like before, I would visit every two months. I planned to bring them to Moscow for the entire summer, but unfortunately, it’s not possible now…
What shocked your children the most about Moscow’s reality?
Anjelika Krylova: In the USA, we lived in a comfortable and spacious house. Garage, backyard, each with their own room… After that, the regular Moscow apartment felt narrow and cramped to them. The city’s pace amazed them: everyone is out and about, constantly engaged in activities. Stella quickly adapted to the Moscow metro, explored the entire city. In general, once the initial shock passed, my children enjoyed school and Moscow as a whole.
Why didn’t any of them pursue figure skating professionally?
Anjelika Krylova: I never wanted my children to engage in a serious sport. If they were training, I would have had to give up all my commitments and dedicate my life to their training, like parents in figure skating do. Besides, we didn’t have grandparents in the US who could help us.
My daughter skates now, but for herself. When I visit the US, she immediately takes me to the rink to practice. She says, “You explain the elements so well, everything is clear!” She’s very active overall: she’s involved in a political club and volunteers at school.
My son used to do hockey and swimming, but in Moscow, I enrolled him in short track speed skating. He laughed when they spelled his name with the letter “Э” (pronounced “eh”) in competitions – Ehnthony. In English, it starts with the letter “A.”
Do you regret moving in the end?
Anjelika Krylova: I have no regrets. Moscow life has taught me and my children so much. It’s been a great experience for all of us. The only burden is the external situation: the inability to travel, the inability to compete in international competitions…
The federation is making a great effort to support us: organizing new tournaments, providing opportunities to perform and earn from it. But it’s still challenging. My kids are young, and they still have time. We live in faith that we will get a chance.
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