When Thor Masters 2023 begins to unfold next weekend in Nykobing Falster, Denmark, it will do so boasting an exorbitant amount of accomplished talent in nearly every weight category.
European nations typically by now have their rosters set for the continental championship tournament (scheduled for April in Croatia), but this is not just any other year. The current season (which began with the conclusion of the World Championships in September and has picked up significant steam over the past two months) has witnessed an increase in established entrants making starts outside of their domestic selection concerns. Speculatively, there are several reasons for this:
— The 2022-23 season includes less restrictions with regards to traveling, training, and competition in the wake of the pandemic.
— A variety of countries have seen an influx of athletes who, though still young, are becoming viable Senior competitors.
— The first two United World Wrestling “Ranking Series” events have already been exhausted.
— The ’23 Worlds will usher in the first leg of Olympic Games qualification for Paris ’24.
What this has translated to thus far in ’23 has been easy for serious international Greco-Roman fans to observe — the first two “Ranking Series” tournaments (the Grand Prix Zagreb Open and Ibrahim Moustafa Memorial, respectively) and the Nikola Petrov in Bulgaria exceeded expectations when it came to their degrees of participation. It was not difficult to anticipate that Zagreb might offer a generous number of top-tier athletes given its location; but the entry list was even larger than most had originally thought to where six of the ten weight categories brought back memories of Azerbaijan’s Golden Grand Prix. Moustafa in Egypt was predicted to unveil a steep drop in participants. While it did not match Zagreb’s status, there is no question that the tournament leapt over the bar when it came to the caliber of competition.
The same can be said for Petrov, which was not a “Ranking Series” event. It was perhaps natural to figure that Petrov would bring forth a decline due to following the aforementioned pair of ranking events having just concluded; and to be sure, there certainly was a decrease in participation. But that decrease was not nearly what many would have pegged in the weeks prior. Rather, Petrov delivered more than a few high-ticket names who made the podium, and as a whole the tournament was incredibly entertaining from start to finish.
And now here comes Thor Masters.
Thor Masters 2023 Entry List
“It’s going to the biggest Thor Masters ever, and maybe also the strongest,” said Danish coach and tournament organizer Thor Hyllegaard on Saturday. Without any further investigation, it is prudent to take Hyllegaard at his word. When the tournament made its post-pandemic restriction return in ’21, he did not overinflate his tournament’s hype. Nor did he this past September, when the event was scheduled right on the heels of the World Championships. At the time, Hyllegaard noted that Thor Masters was positioned mainly as a warm-up for those heading into the U23 Worlds the proceeding month, which was accurate. But he also knows what it looks like when the tournament is set to make an impact, mainly because most years that has been the case. And if Hyllegaard says that ’23’s version is going to be good, it is safe to believe him.
Judging by the entry list, he has already been proven correct.
Inside the Numbers
- As of press time, Thor Masters 2023 has 160 registered entrants — 100 more than in ’22; 79 more than ’21.
- 14 recent Senior World/Olympic medalists.
- Three Senior World Champions.
- 14 U23 World medalists.
- Four U23 World Champions.
- 19 Junior World medalists.
- Four Junior World Champions.
- 27 European Championships medalists.
- Four European Championships gold medalists.
- 12 previous Thor Masters gold medalists.
The lone bracket for Thor Masters 2023 that is a bit of a downer. Only two athletes, one of whom is Fabian Schmitt (GER). A consistent contender in and around Europe for several years, Schmitt’s breadth of experience overshadows that of Alexander Norstrom (SWE) by a substantial margin.
55 kg (2 entries)
Alexander Norström (SWE)
Fabian Schmitt (GER) — ’19 European Championships bronze, ’21 Thor Masters gold
At first glance for most, the headliners are likely Hungarians Erik Torba and Krisztian Kecskemeti, Michal Tracz (POL), and Justas Petravicius. Denmark’s own Nikolai Mohammadi should be a factor, as well. He is developing quickly and solid in all three phases. But a name on whom no one shall sleep is Ardit Fazljija of Sweden. Fazljija is a very clean and poised technical competitor with rounded experience. He also tends to perform just fine when given the chance. That is what he will have in Nykobing Falster, though this bracket is going to be tough for all involved.
60 kg (19 entries)
Max Black (NYAC/NTS)
Daniel Bobillo (ESP)
Mitch Brown (Air Force RTC)
Aser Ebro (ESP)
Ardit Fazljija (SWE)
Krisztián Kecskeméti (HUN)
Christopher Krämer (GER)
Nikolai Mohammadi (DEN) — ’22 Thor Masters gold
Justas Petravicius (LTU)
Isac Sandvikens (SWE)
Logan Savvy (NYAC)
Adam Silverin (SWE)
Oliwier Skrzypczak (POL)
Mateusz Szewczuk (POL)
Georgi Tibilov (SRB) — ’19 Junior World bronze
Erik Torba (HUN) — ’20 European Championships bronze, ’19 European Games silver, ’15 Junior World bronze
Michal Tracz (POL)
Léo Tudezca (FRA)
Jamal Valizadeh (UWW)
Jozsef Andrasi having another opportunity this year is interesting. Andrasi, 27, has not competed much over the past few years but was out there for Petrov a few weeks ago, a showing that ended early. The marquee attraction is, of course, Aleksandrs Jurkjans, who provided his home country Latvia with a nice jolt in ’21 by earning Euro bronze. Ivan Lizatovic (CRO), another previous European Championships bronze, hardly needs an introduction and is certainly considered a medal contender. There is also Alex Bica (SWE), whose skill-set and familiarity with this landscape should come in handy. American Sammy Jones (Sunkist/CTT) had blitzed ’16 Olympic bronze Stig-Andre Berge back in ’19 at this very tournament and was close to a medal before a late-round loss. Jones is even better now than he was then, and it would not be surprising to watch him grab a piece of hardware this time around.
63 kg (12 entries)
Jozsef Andrasi (HUN)
Dias Ayhan (SWE)
Alex Bica (SWE)
Perica Dimitrijevic (SRB)
Jonatan Jednell (SWE)
Sammy Jones (Sunkist/CTT) — ’22 Pan-Am Championships gold, ’15 Pan-Am Championships bronze, ’14 University World bronze
Aleksandrs Jurkjans (LAT) — ’21 European Championships bronze
Renat Kryzhko (SWE)
Ivan Lizatovic (CRO) — ’17 European Championships bronze
William Reenberg (DEN)
Brian Kurt Santiago (DEN)
Aker Schmid (AUT)
67 kilos is absolutely stacked. In a conventional bracket, that is not as big of a deal. The herd thins in a hurry when repechage is the only route for athletes who drop matches to continue going forward. But with Thor Masters observing the “Nordic system”, things could, and very likely will, ramp up nicely in this weight category. For potential medalists, it will be a gauntlet with each passing round.
Serbian World champs Mate Nemes and Sebastian Nad command the most attention. Not just due to coming off of World golds, though that helps. But there is something else: neither has competed internationally since Belgrade ’22; and with the European Championships soon to arrive on the calendar, their output in Nykobing Falster will put them under a thick lens. Russian Zaur Kabaloev, who defected to Italy a little less than two years ago, is as complete of a package as Nemes and Nad. In some ways, probably more so. ’17 World runner-up Mateusz Bernatek (POL) is still a considerable force, but inconsistent at times in his performances. He’s an ardent pusher, however, and that is a weapon if he can gain momentum. Norway’s Haavard Joergensen has been active as of late and will be comfortable in the environment. Tigran Galustyan (FRA), depending on his pool draw, could pose problems — and the trio of Artur Politaev (UKR), Alston Nutter (Sunkist), and Niklas Oehlen (SWE) should fit in rather seamlessly so long as they manage to get in the win column early.
67 kg (22 entries)
Mateusz Bernatek (POL) — ’17 World silver, ’21 European Championships silver
Tim Bergfalk (SWE)
Dominic Damon (NMU/NTS)
Tigran Galustyan (FRA)
Håvard Jørgensen (NOR)
Zaur Kabaloev (ITA) — ’18 European Championships bronze, ’19 European Games gold, 2X Russian National Champion
Witalis Laszovski (GER)
Peter Lund (SWE)
Leonard Merkin (NYAC)
Sebastian Nad (SRB)
Mate Nemes (SRB) — ’22 World Champion, ’19 World bronze, ’21 European Championships gold
Alston Nutter (Sunkist) — ’19 Junior World bronze
Niklas Öhlén (SWE) — ’21 Junior World bronze
Roman Pacurkowski (POL)
Robert Perez III (Sunkist)
Artur Politaev (UKR) — ’19 U23 World bronze
Magnus Rasmussen (DEN)
Arslanbek Salimov (POL)
Rasmus Ulriksen (DEN)
Alexander Vafai (SWE)
Andreas Vetsch (SUI)
Maxim Yevtushenko (UKR)
Non-Olympic 72 is led by Robert Fritsch (HUN), whose European gold last year elevated him to becoming a medal favorite at the ’22 Worlds until the bottom fell out. Fritsch brings to bear a revving motor and stout defense, but so too does ’21 World bronze Kristupas Sleiva (LTU). The duo have not competed against one another in any recent relevant events but they might be on a collision course next week. Their similar styles and mechanics might make a match between them either immensely thrilling or a slogfest. ’22 U23 World medalist Pavel Puklavec (CRO) is also on their wavelength stylistically, as is familiar Matias Lipasti (FIN). 72 kilograms is a grinding division this year at Thor Masters, or so it would seem. Attrition matters in general at this tournament, but at 72 it will be a downright requirement just to survive.
72 kg (16 entries)
Hugo Baff (SWE)
Junior Benitez (ESP)
Jakub Bielesz (CZE)
Christoffer Dahlen (SWE)
Aaron Dobbs (NMU/NTS)
Gilani Dzortov (NOR)
Robert Fritsch (HUN) — ’22 European Championships gold, ’21 European Championships bronze, ’18 University World bronze
Ibrahim Ghanem (FRA)
Levente Levai (HUN)
Matias Lipasti (FIN)
Fredereik Mathiesen (DEN)
Erik Persson (SWE)
Pavel Puklavec (CRO) — ’22 U23 World silver
Kristupas Sleiva (LTU) — ’21 World bronze, ’20 European Championships bronze
Michael Widmayer (GER)
Vladislav Yevtushenko (UKR)
In an effort to bypass pretense, everyone who is registered at 77 understands that Zoltan Levai (HUN) is the biggest obstacle. Forgetting even his slew of recent accolades highlighted by a fresh World silver, Levai does just about everything correctly and is, simply put, extremely difficult to rattle. He is one who often grows stronger the longer matches go, which adds to his imposing nature. You also have ’17 World gold Viktor Nemes (SRB) in the mix, who fell to Levai in the Belgrade ’22 semifinal in what was a crisp 3-1 decision. Levai was in control throughout, however. Nemes is still only 29, and is definitely not to be overlooked — but from event to event, it’s not easy to tell how switched on he really is.
Reigning Thor Masters champ Samuel Bellscheidt (GER), short in the tooth is he, but a case could be made for his contention. Who you might enjoy, and one who the hard-hitters may find themselves battling with medal hopes on the line, are Antonio Kamenjasevic (CRO), Sebastian Aak (NOR), and Patryk Bendarz (POL). Kamenjasevic is the most established of this handful plus an equally-crafty and hard-charging sort; the steadily-improving Aak has brandished actual, legitimate offensive measures on the feet this season; and Poland likes Petrov bronze Bednarz because he is young, gritty, and an occasional risk-taker. There could be space for Paulus Galkinas (LTU) to make a run — and it would be wise to not dismiss USA’s Jesse Porter, whose dynamics and flair for hair-trigger throws are always a threat.
77 kg (21 entries)
Sebastian Aak (NOR)
Patryk Bednarz (POL)
Samuel Bellscheidt (GER) — ’22 Thor Masters gold
Johnny Bur (FRA)
Ihor Bychov (UKR)
Luca Dariozzi (ITA)
Paulus Galkinas (LTU)
Alexander Gustavsson (SWE)
Vano Hautjunian (DEN)
Aleksandar Ilic (SRB)
Antonio Kamenjasevic (CRO) — ’21 European Championships bronze
Oliver Krüger (DEN)
Zoltán Lévai (HUN) — ’22 World silver, ’16 Junior World bronze, ’20 European Championships silver
Viktor Nemes (SRB) — ’17 World Champion, 2X European Championships silver, ’19 European Championships bronze
Albin Olofsson (SWE)
Mikko Peltokangas (FIN)
Jesse Porter (NYAC)
Maximilian Schwabe (GER) — ’16 Thor Masters gold
Marcos Silva (ESP)
Adam Strandner (SWE)
Maksym Zakharchuk (POL)
The question you might have after looking at the entry list below might be “is this for real?” pertaining to Erik Szilvassy (HUN). Szilvassy has not competed under 85 kilograms in seven years…and in ’21 he was attempting to grab Hungary’s spot at 97 kilos in search of Olympic qualification. But with Tamas Levai and Alex Szoeke both jousting for 97 — and with David Losonczi and Istvan Takacs taking over at 87 — there just might not be any other palatable options for Szilvassy at the moment. Or, this could all just be an error in registration.
If Szilvassy is legit for 82, then sure, he is automatically as much of a contender for Thor Masters hardware as anyone else in the bracket. Such as whom? Zakarias Berg (SWE) and ’21 World bronze Roland Schwarz (GER) come to mind. Berg, who earned bronze at Moustafa last month, had been a constant 87 competitor but is apparently playing with his weight for what could be a possible drop to 77 for Paris qualifying. That is conjecture — for now, anyway. Schwarz is textbook, mostly, especially for Germany, but has a deceptive ability to amble out of problematic situations and into favorable ones. 34-year-old Bozo Starcevic (CRO), who was close to walking away after the Tokyo quad failed to lead to a second Olympic appearance, might have say in this event. The same is true of his countryman Filip Sacic. One athlete smart people may want to watch is Lukas Ahlgren (SWE), and not just because he’s the returning Thor Masters champ. Ahlgren has, at his own pace, begun to make real strides and is gaining ground on the hardened lot, if by inches.
82 kg (14 entries)
Lukas Ahlgren (SWE) — ’22 Thor Masters gold
Zakarias Berg (SWE) — ’18 European Championships bronze, ’15 Junior World bronze, ’19 Thor Masters gold
Marius Braun (GER)
Marcel Hein (DEN)
Alexander Johansson (SWE)
Vilhelm Larsson (SWE)
Erik Loeser (GER)
Filip Sacic (CRO)
Fritz Schierl (Minnesota Storm)
Roland Schwarz (GER) — ’21 World bronze
Tommy Skoeld (SWE)
Bozo Starcevic (CRO) — ’13 European Championships bronze
Erik Szilvassy (HUN) — ’19 European Championships bronze, ’16 University World gold
Mark Weber (SUI)
Both wrestlers who comprised the ’22 World final in this weight category — Zurabi Datunashvili (SRB) and Turpal Bisultanotv (DEN) — are registered. If the rest of the bracket were stuffed with new names and a lack of experience, the presence of now-two-time World gold Datunashvili and Bisultanov would be enough. But it does not stop with just those two. Not even close.
Hungarians Takacs and Losonczi are on the ledger. Losonczi, he earned bronze in Belgrade (and edged Bisultanov last week for U23 European Championship gold). Takacs won the U23 Worlds a month later. They are neck-and-neck domestically, and their results outside of Hungary are similar. Their styles deviate a touch. Takacs is more the brawling technical type, whereas Losonczi is a classical three-phase operator who limits mistakes.
’21 World bronze Arkadiusz Kulynycz (POL) is also set for involvement. The one and only Alex Kessidis (SWE), World runner-up in ’19, is likewise raising his hand. Then you drill it down a little further and what you have is a collection of second-tier medalists who are now serious Senior competitors. Like two-time U23 World bronze Szymon Szymonowicz, who Poland wants to qualify 87 on their behalf, purportedly. Ivan Huklek fits that description for Croatia, too, and Hannes Wagner is right there in that conversation for Austria potentially.
But two names those with observant eyeballs will be viewing are Marcel Sterkenburg (NED) and Damien von Euw (SUI). Sterkenburg prevailed at the ’21 Junior Worlds (his brother Tyrone placed second the same year), bronzed at U23 in ’22, and it is hard to not appreciate how he competes. He is a bulldog in the ties, rarely yields position even against older, seasoned athletes, and is a candidate for Paris qualification either in Belgrade or next spring. Credit goes to von Euw, as well. Once a 98/97 on the age-group level, von Euw’s career is beginning to pick up steam at 87 and his improvements have been tough to miss.
87 kg (22 entries)
Ramon Betschart (SUI) — ’18 Junior World silver
Turpal Bisultanov (DEN) — ’22 World silver, ’22 European Championships gold, 2X Thor Masters gold
Richard Carlson (Minnesota Storm)
Zurabi Datunashvili (SRB) — 2X World Champion, ’20 Olympic bronze, ’11 Junior World silver, 2X European Championships gold
Zarko Dickov (SRB)
Daniel Herro (ESP)
Ivan Huklek (CRO) — ’17 U23 World silver
Alex Kessidis (SWE) — ’19 World silver, ’20 European Championships bronze
Arkadiusz Kulynycz (POL) — ’21 World bronze, ’19 European Games bronze
David Losonczi (HUN) — ’22 World bronze
Vjekoslav Luburic (CRO)
Damian Matveiko (LTU)
Martynas Nemsevicius (LTU)
Lukas Poloncic (Minnesota Storm)
Hamza Sertcanli (SWE)
Filip Smetko (CRO)
Lukas Staudacher (AUT)
Marcel Sterkenburg (NED) — ’21 Junior World Champion, ’22 U23 World bronze
Szymon Szymonowicz (POL) — 2X U23 World bronze
Istvan Takacs (HUN) — ’22 U23 World Champion, ’19 Junior World Champion, ’18 Junior World bronze
Damien von Euw (SUI)
Hannes Wagner (GER) — 2X European Championships bronze, ’15 Junior World bronze
As has been reported and subsequently discussed since February, the talk of the town at 97 is Tamas Levai. His sudden climb from 82 kg (the weight in which he finished third at the Worlds, for instance) to the second heaviest category caught plenty of folks off-guard, including those from his own country. Just as importantly, Levai has put his money where his mouth is. Right out of the gate, he won Hungarian’s winter selection tournament, then finished second at Zagreb. He did place 7th at Moustafa, but a blip on the radar that was. He is razor-shapr, aggressive, and, somehow, capable of defending the bulkier lot from bottom par terre.
With whom might he have quarrel in Nykobing Falster? There are several challenges for Levai many would find enticing, and they don’t have to necessarily come from two-time World bronze Mikheil Kajaia (SRB) or ’20 Olympic bronze Tadeusz Michalik (POL). The Nordic system makes one or both of these athletes a possibility for Levai, and both would present issues in their own distinct ways (Levai may fare better against Kajai than against Michalik, perhaps, primarily due to pace-of-match). But someone like ’19 U23 World Champion Arvi Savolainen (FIN) is a dangerous prospect for Levai, for sure, based on physicality alone. Artur Omarov (CZE), though not as fluid, can provide an adequate test. Omarov has not podium’ed yet, but is an underrated competitor who knows all the tricks of the trade.
This is not all a long way of suggesting that Levai is a lock for Thor Masters’ top prize. He is by no means the runaway favorite, he’s simply beholden to a very compelling story. Plus, fellow Hungarian and ’21 World runner-up Alex Szoeke (who scored the U23 Euro title last week) is also registered. Levai defeated Szoeke at home in January, but that was hardly a beatdown; and Szoeke is, obviously, excellent by every discernible standard. There is the aforementioned Tyrone Sterkenburg (NED), Thor Masters champ from last fall. This edition of the tournament is a measuring stick Sterkenburg needs. You root for him to have a pool draw that allows for multiple matches just to see where he is at heading into April’s Euros. While that is the company line for most of the entrants, it is of a much more pressing concern for those wrestlers such as Sterkenburg who reside on the younger side of the spectrum.
97 kg (19 entries)
Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm)
August Eriksson (SWE)
Oskar Johansson (SWE)
Mikheil Kajaia (SRB) — 2X World bronze, ’18 European Championships silver
Leon Kessidis (GRE)
Gerard Kurniczak (POL)
Vilius Laurinaitis (LTU) — ’12 Junior World Champion
Tamás Lévai (HUN) — ’22 World bronze, ’21 U23 World Champion, ’18 U23 World bronze, ’22 European Championships bronze
Kristijan Lukac (CRO)
Tadeusz Michalik (POL) — ’20 Olympic bronze, ’16 European Championships bronze
Artur Omarov (CZE)
Peter Oehler (GER) — ’22 Junior World silver
Billy Rääf (SWE)
Markus Ragginger (AUT) — ’21 U23 World bronze
Connor Sammet (GER)
Loic Sarnen (FRA)
Arvi Savolainen (FIN) — ’19 U23 World Champion, ’21 U23 World bronze, ’18 Junior World Champion, ’17 Junior Word bronze, ’22 European Championships silver
Tyrone Sterkenburg (NED) — ’21 Junior World silver, ’22 Thor Masters gold
Alex Szoeke (HUN) — ’21 World silver, ’22 U23 World Champion
Only a baker’s dozen will occupy heavyweight, which seems like a low number until you realize the scope of overall ability. Two of the best 130’s on the planet are checking in — World bronze medalists Mantas Knystautas (LTU, ’22) and Oskar Marvik (NOR, ’21). They are big “big men”. Knystautas is 6’7, Marvik is 6’4, and while their styles betray similar characteristics, Marvik has a keener grasp of how to mobilize his center of gravity to ignite the push. He drives forward like a beast and what that tends to do is give him second-chance step-outs off of what are otherwise feigned attempts. He is not hunting for multi-point scores from the feet, but that’s how it is for the majority of heavyweights. What Marvik enjoys is balling up pressure and releasing said pressure near the line before hawking inside to knock opponents off-balance. Knystautas, whose lengthier arms used to be a hindrance when it came to passives, has figured out how (and when) to let his feet do more of the work as he navigates underhooks. He is still a pusher/plodder by instinct, but you love him for it.
On the come-up is Dariusz Vitek (HUN), who as a Cadet did not profile as a sizable heavy down the road. But, he has grown a bit, and in the process is fast turning into a contender. A nod to Vitek is deserving because he is one of the more actively-engaged athletes in this category, mainly because he has to be. The most physical of the bracket is, let’s say it together, Matti Kuosmanen (FIN). Kuosmanan jumped to 130 from 97 in order to qualify for Tokyo. It made sense at the time as a roster move for Finland as well as for Kuosmanen individually (Savolainen had commandeered the spot and qualified 97 at the continental event just over a month prior to the shake-up). But it was in no way a demotion. Kuosmanen fits better at heavyweight than he did at 97. His tactics, his demeanor, his defiance, and chippinenss…they all work well in this land of bruisers. He’s also a two-time champ from Thor Masters, for the note-takers out there, although both of those golds occurred in the lighter weight category.
Germany’s tandem of ’17 U23 World bronze Jello Krahmer and Franz Richter know how to traverse the terrain at Thor Masters, as both are previous champs (Richter triumphed last year). Krahmer in ’17 was just beginning to get some starts behind the now-retired Eduard Popp and has thus far appeared in two Senior World events without breaking through. Richter is hot on his trail and may be in position for his own takeover sooner rather than later. Try not to discount Rafal Krajewski (POL) or Konsta Maenpae (FIN). Neither carry the cache of the others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t nudge their respective ways into the argument. Par terre is always the equalizer.
130 kg (13 entrants)
Marcel Albini (CZE)
Delian Alishahi (SUI)
Tom Foote (NYAC)
Romas Fridrikas (LTU) — ’13 Junior World bronze
Jello Krahmer (GER) — ’17 U23 World bronze, ’20 European Championships bronze, ’20 Thor Masters gold
Rafal Krajewski (POL)
Matti Kuosmanen (FIN) — ’17 U23 World silver, ’19 European Championships bronze, 2X Thor Masters gold
Mantas Knystautas (LTU) — ’22 World bronze, ’17 U23 World bronze, ’14 Junior World silver
Konsta Maenpae (FIN)
Oskar Marvik (NOR) — ’21 World bronze, ’21 Thor Masters gold
Boris Petrusic (SRB)
Franz Richter (GER) — ’18 Junior World bronze, ’22 Thor Masters gold
Dariusz Vitek (HUN) — ’22 U23 World bronze, ’19 Junior World bronze, ’22 European Championships bronze
Thor Masters 2023 Schedule & Streaming Info
All times local (+5 hours ET)
Friday, March 24
3:00pm-8:00pm — Preliminary rounds
Saturday, March 25
10:00am-3:30pm — Preliminary rounds
3:30pm-4:00pm — Bronze medal rounds
4:30pm-6:00pm — Finals
Fans can watch Thor Masters 2023 live via this link.
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