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Galindo, Rudy

Rudy Galindo


American figure skater

Rudy Galindo's story is in many ways the classic American rags-to-riches tale of overcoming adversity to triumph in the end. Again and again, Galindo has over-come personal tragedies and professional setbacks that would have defeated many other athletes. When the departure of Kristi Yamaguchi from their hugely successful skating partnership left him high-and-dry, he struggled with limited success to make up for lost time in men's singles competitions. Just when almost everyone had counted him out, he returned to win the 1996 U.S. Figure Skating National Championship, right in his own hometown.

But in addition to his grit and perseverance, there is an integrity at the heart of Galindo's story, a rare

courage that allowed him to come out of the closet as one of the very few openly gay athletes. That same courage came through when he announced that he had been diagnosed HIV-positive in 2000, and it has continued to shine through in this greatest battle of his life.

A Trailer Park Childhood

Rudy Galindo was born in 1969 to Mexican-American parents Jess and Margaret Galindo in San Jose, California. Jess was a long-distance trucker who was often away from home. Margaret suffered from manic-depression (undiagnosed until 1983) that led to hospitalizations. Even when she lived at home, she was often not able to take care of the children. Galindo had an older brother, George, but much of the parenting responsibilities fell to his older sister Laura. She became a sort of mother to him and has remained in many ways his best friend throughout his life. It was also Laura who introduced him to the sport that would make him a star.

At the age of ten, Laura attended a skating party and immediately fell in love with it. She began to take skating lessons at the nearby Eastridge Ice Arena, and six-year-old Rudy often tagged along. For Jess, the skating lessons were a great way to keep the kids out of trouble. The family lived in a trailer park in East San Jose. As Galindo put it in Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo, "I thought our trailer was just fine. There wasn't any reason for me to think otherwise. The whole neighborhood was a trailer park, so that's how all my neighbors lived." But the fact remained that it was also a dangerous place, a haven for gangs and drug dealers, and Jess Galindo was glad that his children had found a safe place to play. It would of course prove to be much more than that for Rudy.

A Prodigy and a Partnership

Galindo began to devote virtually all his free time to skating. He and Laura would get up at 4:45 in the morning to practice skating before school. Even with that, Galindo was often late, and he actually had to change schools to find a principal willing to accommodate this chronic lateness. The money for lessons also began to put a crimp in the family budget, and when it became too expensive Laura dropped out of serious skating, taking a job at Taco Bell to help pay for Rudy's skating and ballet lessons. The financial struggle prevented the Galindos from moving out of their trailer, but according to Rudy, his father never asked him to stop skating.

The family's sacrifices and Galindo's hard work soon started to pay off. He quickly rose to prominence in the sport, taking third place in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships at age 15, and first place two years later, in 1987. But it was in pairs skating that Galindo really caught the attention of the skating world.

In 1983, Galindo met Kristi Yamaguchi, and the two began skating together. While both continued to skate separately, often winning competitions, they began to be seen more and more as a team, a special combination that transcended their separate talents. In 1989 and again in 1990 they won the U.S. Figure Skating national pairs competition, and sportswriters began to speak of them as likely medal winners in the 1992 Olympics. At the same time, Galindo grew closer to the Yamaguchi family, even moving in with them for a few years and changing the spelling of his name to "Rudi" to better match Kristi.

But on April 26, 1990, Yamaguchi told Galindo she wanted to break up the partnership. She had continued to focus on singles competitions, and her exhausting training schedule was taking its toll. Yamaguchi and Galindo took fifth place at the 1990 World Figure Skating Pairs Championships, and to the surprise of many in the skating world, Yamaguchi failed to secure a medal in the Women's Singles. Something had to give, and she decided to focus exclusively on the singles. While he understood her reasons, Galindo was clearly hurt. As he told a Sports Illustrated reporter, "I guess I knew it would happen. You hear comments from other skaters. But Kristi had never said anything. We were like brother and sister, then we just went our separate ways."

Difficult Times

Reluctantly, Galindo returned to the men's singles competitions. He won the Pacific Coast regionals, but the results at the Nationals were disappointing. He placed 11th in 1991, climbed to 8th place in 1992, and then peaked at 5th place in 1993. In the 1994 Nationals, he placed 7th, and in 1995 was back at 8th place. At this point Galindo considered dropping out of competition altogether.

His personal life wasn't going any better. His mother continued to struggle with her depression, sometimes lashing out in uncontrollable rages. His father suffered from diabetes and in 1988 he suffered a stroke. Indeed, illness and death seemed to haunt Galindo in these years. The coach he shared with Yamaguchi, Jim Hulick, had died from AIDS in December of 1989. In 1993, his father died of a heart attack. By that time, his brother George had been diagnosed with AIDS, and shortly afterwards he began to visibly decline. Galindo took care of George in his last year, changing him, bathing him, and often waking up at night to sounds of screaming as George slipped into AIDS dementia. George died in 1994, while Galindo was taking first place in the Vienna Cup. As he told Sports Illustrated, "He died the same time I was doing my long program. I came right home. That was hard. I went from the ice to the funeral." The next year, another coach, Rick Inglesias, died from the same terrible illness.

Galindo himself was not doing much better. Disappointed in his skating results, shell-shocked from all the suffering around him, he began drinking heavily, experimenting with drugs, and (perhaps most dangerously) engaging in unsafe sex. While Galindo had realized he was gay at a young age, and accepted it, it was not always easy for him. His father had reacted badly when his brother George came out to the family, and Yamaguchi's mother simply refused to believe him when he confided to her that he was gay. Not that Galindo lived a life of closeted isolation. He had close gay friends, who took him in when life in the family trailer became overwhelming, and he had occasionally gone to gay bars with George, but in 1993 a recklessness seemed to take hold of Galindo. He took up with a man, identified as "Kurt" in his autobiography, who got him onto drugs, cleaned out his bank account, and even threatened him physically before dropping him. Galindo seemed to be spiraling out of control.

Turnaround and Triumph

Then in the fall of 1995, something seemed to happen inside Galindo. For one thing he began to help out his sister in teaching young skaters. This rekindled his original love of the sport. When he found out that the 1996 Nationals would be held in San Jose, his hometown, he decided to give it one last trya farewell performance if need be, but one to be proud of. He began to train more seriously, dropping 25 pounds and practicing his skating routines over and over to eliminate mistakes. At his sister's suggestion, he even toned down his flamboyant costumes, which had often irritated judges in the past.

Galindo hoped just to finish in the top six, mentally conceding the top spots to previous national champions Todd Eldredge and Scott Hamilton . Indeed, after the short program, Eldredge and Hamilton took top honors, with Galindo in third place. Then came the long program, which counted for two-thirds of the final score, on January 20, 1996. Galindo went all out, landing eight triple jumps and two triple jump combinations flawlessly. Even before he finished, the sellout crowd of 10,869 were on their feet, cheering him on. When the judges announced the final results, including two perfect marks for artistic merit, the crowd went wild. And when seven of the nine judges put Galindo in first place, guaranteeing him the championship, the chant of "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy" filled the stadium.

The media guide for the event hadn't even included Galindo's name, but suddenly he was the national champion. He was the first openly gay man, the first Hispanic, and at 26, the oldest man in 70 years to hold that title. It was an amazing comeback, and Galindo became a hometown hero. And for the first time since the breakup with Yamaguchi, Galindo was on his way to the World Championships, in Edmonton, Canada. Yamaguchi herself called to congratulate him, and for the first time in years the two had a long, warm conversation. Despite a sprained ankle, a bad case of nerves, and the competition of Olympic medallists, Galindo took the bronze medal at the World Championships. It was a result that left him and Laura, by now his coach, ecstatic.


1969 Born September 7 in San Jose, California
1975 Begins skating
1983 Begins pairs skating with Kristi Yamaguchi
1985 Finishes third in World Junior Figure Skating Championships
1987 Finishes first in World Junior Figure Skating Championships
1989 Wins pairs title (with Yamaguchi) in U.S. Figure Skating Championships
1989 Former coach, Jim Hulick, dies of complications related to AIDS
1990 Wins pairs title (with Yamaguchi) in U.S. Figure Skating Championships; they take fifth at World Championships
1990 In April, Yamaguchi withdraws from pairs skating with Galindo to focus on women's singles
1991 Finishes a disappointing eleventh in U.S. Figure Skating Championships, men's singles; from 1992-1995, finishes fifth place or lower in USFSA national championships
1993 Father dies of heart attack
1994 Brother, George, dies of complications related to AIDS
1995 Former coach, Rick Inglesi, dies of complications related to AIDS
1996 Wins USFSA national championship for men's singles
1996 Places third in USFSA world championship for men's singles
1996 Begins skating with Tom Collins Campbell's Soup of World Figure Skating Champions
2000 Diagnosed HIV-positive, goes public with the news

A New Life and a New Challenge

Already, Galindo had signed on with the Tom Collins Campbell's Soup Tour of World Figure Skating Champions, for $200,000more money than he'd ever seen. He also signed deals for his autobiography, a made-for-TV movie, and exhibitions, including the Champions on Ice. For the first time in his life, money was not an issue. Wisely, he let Laura handle much of the finances. From a young age family members and friends, even Mrs. Yamaguchi for a while, had handled Galindo's practical affairs while he focused on skating. Now that he was making money, he was determined not to blow it all, although he did buy presents for friends and family, including a new set of furniture for his motherwho declined his offer to buy her a house.

For the next few years, Galindo was able to concentrate on writing his autobiography, skating professionally, and enjoying his newfound fame and fortune. Then in early 2000 came news that would once again challenge his faith in the future. Skating a warm-up routine, he suddenly found himself so short of breath that he had to leave the ice. In his heart, he knew that something serious was happening, but he put off going to the doctor. When his "bronchitis" failed to clear up, he finally sought medical treatment, and found out that he was HIV-positive.

After the initial shock, as memories of George's final days came flooding into his mind, Galindo once again rose to meet the crisis. He went public with the news of his diagnosis, and with his invaluable sister's encouragement, he began to treat the disease aggressively, through anti-retroviral therapy. He seems to be doing well and continues to skate for the Tom Collins Champions on Ice, while doing his best to raise public awareness of AIDS, particularly for those at greatest risk. One thing is certain: Galindo is not giving up. As his agent, Michael Rosenberg, once described his entire career in USA Today, "Rudy Galindo is the [best example] of never, ever, ever quit."


Address: Rudy Galindo, U.S. Figure Skating Association, 20 First St., Colorado Springs, CO 80906-3624.

Awards and Accomplishments

1982 First place, National Novice competition
1985 Third place, World Junior Championship, men's singles
1985 Fifth place, National Championship, junior pairs (with Yamaguchi)
1986 Second place, World Junior Championship, men's singles
1986 First place, National Championship, junior pairs (with Yamaguchi)
1987 First place, World Junior Championship, men's singles
1987 Third place, World Junior Championship, pairs (with Yamaguchi)
1987 Second place, U.S. Olympic Festival, men's singles
1988 First place, World Junior Championship, pairs (with Yamaguchi)
1989-90 First place, World Championship, pairs (with Yamaguchi)
1992 First place, Pacific Coast regionals, men's singles; places eighth at nationals
1993 First place, Pacific Coast regionals, men's singles; places fifth at nationals
1994 First place, Vienna Cup
1994 First place, Pacific Coast regionals, men's singles; places seventh at nationals
1995 First place, Pacific Coast regionals, men's singles; places eighth at nationals
1996 First place, National Championship, men's singles
1996 Third place, World Championship, men's singles
2000 Second place, World Professional Men's Figure Skating Championship


(With Eric Marcus) Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo, New York: Pocket Books, 1997.



Rudy Galindo and Eric Marcus. Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo. New York. Pocket Books, 1997.


Croft, T.S. "Rudy Galindo"Advocate (August 18, 1998): 69.

Duffy, Martha. "Edge of a dream: having overcome tragedy, Rudy Galindo is poised to win figure skating's world title." Time (March 18, 1996): 84.

"The fall most feared." People Weekly (April 17, 2000): 62.

Leonard, Amy. "Faces in the crowd." Sports Illustrated (January 19, 1987): 77.

Paulk, J. Sara. Review of Icebreaker. Library Journal (April 15, 1997): 87.

Plummer, William. "Redemption song: skating for the living and the dead, hard-luck Rudy Galindo is a champion once more." People Weekly (February 5, 1996): 126.

Prose, Francine. Review of Icebreaker. People Weekly (April 28, 1997): 38.

Review of Icebreaker. Lambda Book Report. (May 1997): 23.

Review of Icebreaker. Publishers Weekly. (March 3, 1997): 57.

Swift, E.M. "On a roll." Sports Illustrated (March 11, 1996): 52.

Swift, E.M. "A real gem dandy." Sports Illustrated (January 29, 1996): 36.

Sketch by Robert Winters

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Galindo, Rudy: 1969—: Ice Skater

Rudy Galindo: 1969: Ice skater

Rudy Galindo was the first Mexican American and the first openly gay figure skater to win a United States National Championship. Galindo overcame family problems and financial difficulties to become an accomplished and popular skater. He began his career as a pairs skater with champion Kristi Yamaguchi and then focused on his singles career. After winning the national championship in his hometown of San Jose, California, Galindo went on to win a bronze medal at the World Championships. Gal-indo then turned professional and he now skates in exhibition tours, such as Champions on Ice.

Followed His Sister Into Skating

Val Joe Galindo, nicknamed Rudy, was born on September 7, 1969, in San Jose, California. He was the third child born to Jess Galindo, a truck driver of Mexican descent, and Margaret Galindo, a part-time assembly line worker in a computer factory. His brother, George, was ten years older than him, and sister Laura was five years older than him. The Galindos lived in a small trailer in a rough neighborhood in East San Jose. Jess Galindo hauled rocket fuel between San Jose and Las Vegas three times a week so he was not home much during Galindo's childhood. Margaret Galindo suffered from manic depression and she was often hospitalized to treat her illness. The Galindo children spent some of their childhood in East Los Angeles living with Jess' sister, Cindy.

When Galindo was six years old, his sister began taking skating lessons at the Eastridge Ice Arena. Galindo tagged along to watch his sister at first, but soon he wanted to get on the ice himself. His father was reluctant because Galindo was so small for his age that he feared his son might get hurt. He finally relented and let Galindo take a turn on the ice. "As I skated around the rink, it felt as if gravity had dropped its hold on me," Galindo wrote in his 1997 autobiography Icebreaker. "It was like flying. It was exhilarating. It made me feel alive. I felt powerful. It was fun. And I was instantly hooked."

After a year of skating at the public rink, Laura began taking private lessons. Galindo would watch his sister's lessons and practice the same moves by himself. Laura's coach Colleen Blackmore noticed Galindo's efforts and encouraged him to keep practicing. She took note of his potential and his desire to skate and she eventually convinced Jess Galindo to let Rudy take lessons as well as Laura. Soon Rudy was competing in, and winning, local competitions. He easily worked his way up the skating ranks from preliminary, to prejuve-nile, juvenile, intermediate, and novice. At the age of 13, Galindo won the novice national championship.

At a Glance . . .

Born Val Joe Galindo on September 7, 1969, in San Jose, CA; son of Jess (died 1993) and Margaret Galindo.

Career: Amateur junior figure skater, 1982-86; amateur senior figure skater, 1987-96; author, 1997; professional figure skater, 1997.

Memberships: US Figure Skating Association.

Awards: Third place, World Junior Figure Skating Championships, 1985; First place, World Junior Figure Skating Championships, 1987; First place (with Kristi Yamaguchi), World Junior Pairs Championship, 1988; First place (with Yamaguchi), US National Pairs Championship, 1989; First place (with Yamaguchi), U.S. National Pairs Championship, 1990; First place, US National Men's Championship, 1996; Third place, World Men's Championship, 1996; Amateur Athlete of the Year, San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, 1996; Portrait of Success Award, Hispanic Development Corporation's, 1996; Sportsman of the Year Award, National Council of La Raza, 1996; US Presidential Delegation to the Winter Olympics, 1998; Second place, World Professional Men's Figure Skating Championship, 2000; Ryan White Award, 2001; One of the 25 Most Influential Names In Figure Skating 2000-2001, International Figure Skating magazine.

Address: Agent c/o Pilar LaFargue, 418 Vista Creek, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

Paired with Kristi Yamaguchi

In 1982 Galindo's skating career took off. He started training with a new coach, Jim Hulick, who was the best coach in the San Francisco Bay area. He also met Kristi Yamaguchi at a skating rink in Pleasanton, California. After watching his sister skate pairs and noticing how well Kristi skated, Galindo approached his coach with the idea of skating pairs with Yamaguchi. At first his coach did not take him seriously because Galindo did not have the tall, strong build of a pairs skater. However, Galindo persisted and finally convinced Hulick to arrange a meeting with the Yamaguchis. "Singles skating is extremely isolating," Galindo explained in Icebreaker. "And I thought it might be fun to work with someone, especially someone who was as full of energy and charm as Kristi."

Galindo's persistence paid off and soon he and Yamaguchi were competing as pairs skaters. In just two years they won their first competition at the Central Pacific junior pairs event. In 1985 they placed fifth in the United States National Championships for junior pairs, and only a year later, they won first place at the same event. Galindo not only gained a new skating partner, but he also found a second family. By this time his sister Laura had stopped skating and she was working to contribute to the family income. She also became Galindo's manager. His father still attended competitions, but he was not involved in the daily decisions that were involved in his son's skating career. Galindo's mother was still battling her illness and she was only marginally involved in her son's career. The Yamaguchi family treated Galindo as one of their own. He considered Kristi to be his best friend and her mother, Carole Yamaguchi, was like a mother to him.

Galindo stopped attending public schools after junior high. Since the principal at Independence High School was not willing to accommodate his morning skating practices, Galindo hired a tutor rather than attend high school. For three years Galindo was taught by a tutor twice a week and then studied on his own for the rest of the time. He did not feel he was getting a quality education this way, so he chose not to pursue a high school diploma. Instead he earned his general equivalency diploma. In his autobiography Galindo wrote that he regretted not getting a proper education, but he felt that he and his family were making the best possible choices given the circumstances.

Galindo and Yamaguchi continued to skate pairs through the late 1980s. Carole Yamaguchi was concerned that their partnership might not last because of Galindo's small stature. To convince the Yamaguchis that he was completely dedicated to pairs skating, Galindo briefly gave up his singles career. Galindo and Yamaguchi placed fifth at their first United States National Championships in the senior division and they repeated their fifth place win the following year. However, in 1989 the couple won their first United States National Championship and they held their title in 1990 as well. Despite their success, their relationship as a pairs team was deteriorating. Yamaguchi was doing extremely well in the singles competitions and found it difficult to continue training for both events. To make matters worse, their coach, Jim Hulick, died of AIDS complications in 1989.

Struggled to Build a Singles Career

After their win in the 1990 national competition, Galindo and Yamaguchi ended their pairs career together so that Yamaguchi could focus on singles in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. Galindo was disappointed not only because he had hoped to compete in the pairs competition at the Olympics, but also because he had sacrificed his singles career for their pairs team. It would have been very difficult for Galindo to find another pairs partner at his age and stage in his career, so his only choice was to return to singles if he wanted to continue skating competitively. Galindo hired a new singles coach, Rick Inglesi, and began working on his triple jumps again.

Galindo's return to singles skating was not an easy transition. Initially he set modest goals for himself to get back into the top of the competition, but he hoped to have as successful of a singles career as he had had in pairs. He was also driven by the fact that Yamaguchi had become a shining singles skater, capturing the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. Galindo placed a respectable eleventh at the 1991 United States National Championships. He finished eighth in 1992 and fifth in 1993, so he seemed to be steadily improving. However, Galindo seemed unable to break through to the top. He finished in seventh at the 1994 nationals and eighth at the 1995 nationals. He was completely frustrated with his inability to finish in the top three and he considered quitting the sport.

Galindo also experienced a series of personal problems beginning in 1993 that jeopardized his skating career. In particular, he was involved in a destructive romantic relationship and he had started taking drugs. His short-lived drug habit affected his finances, his friendships, and his skating. In addition, his father had passed away from a heart attack and his brother was dying of AIDS. Galindo was able to end his drug habit with the help of his family and friends. However, his career was still suffering. Galindo suspected this was because of discrimination in the skating world. Galindo had been openly gay since he was a teenager. In 1993 he was chosen as an alternate for the prestigious international competition called Skate America. When one of the selected skaters cancelled his appearance in the competition, Galindo should have taken his place. However, he was overlooked and skater Todd Eldredge was sent instead. Galindo's coach had learned from the skating judges that they disapproved of the fact that Galindo was effeminate. This prejudice could have also contributed to his rankings in the national competitions.

After several disappointing results at the United States National Championships, Galindo decided to make some radical changes. He left coach Rick Inglesi, who later died of AIDS, and he hired two friends of his sister: Kevin Peeks, a jump expert, and John Brancato, a choreographer. The new coaches immediately worked to change Galindo's image. They got rid of his long hair and earring, changed his flamboyant costumes to more conservative ones, and minimized his more feminine moves. They also put him on a rigorous training program. Although Galindo improved his style and his skating, he did not immediately improve his results. He finished a disappointing eighth at the 1995 nationals.

Became a National Champion

Although Galindo was tired of the disappointments of skating, he decided to stick with the sport for one more year, since the 1996 United States National Championships were to be held in his hometown of San Jose. This time he asked his sister Laura to be his coach. Galindo did not have unreasonable expectations for his performance, but he hoped to place in the top five to make the national television broadcast. After skating a clean short program, he was in third place. Todd Eldredge was leading after the long program, but his performance did not have as many difficult triple jumps as Galindo. In particular, Galindo had two triple-triple combinations planned that would make his program technically more difficult that Eldredge's. If he could skate a clean program, he could take the lead from Eldredge. "As I approached the takeoff point, I lifted my arms and jumped," Galindo wrote in his autobiography Icebreaker. "Three and a half revolutions and a split second later I landed smoothly, facing backward, then took off again on the toe of my skate for the triple toe loopspin, spin, spin. The audience roared so loud I could hardly hear the music. As I landed, I thought, 'This is way too easy.'" Galindo's flawless performance led to high technical marks and two perfect six scores for artistic style.

After several disappointing performances at the United States Nationals, Galindo finally won a national championship in 1996. It was a sweet victory since it happened in his hometown of San Jose. Galindo became an overnight star. He had to hire an agent to help with all of the publicity. The fame also brought more money that he had ever had in his life. Galindo not only felt that he had proven himself as an accomplished singles skater, but he also recognized the greater significance of his achievement. "I also thought about the larger meaning of the gold medal's being awarded to me: an effeminate gay Mexican-American," Galindo wrote in his autobiography. "I thought that my winning proved that whatever discrimination there isor wasin skating, it didn't keep me from winning as long as I gave a winning performance."

That same year Galindo also placed third in the World Championships, proving that his performance at San Jose was not just a fluke. By the end of 1996, Galindo decided to give up his Olympic eligibility and turn professional so that he could earn money for his skating. Galindo signed endorsement deals and a book contract and began skating in exhibitions. In 2000 Galindo learned that he was HIV positive. This was devastating news for Galindo since his brother and two coaches had died from AIDS. However, Galindo used his fame to educate the public about the disease. He also continues to skate professionally. As he told Clifford Pugh of the Houston Chronicle in February of 2001, "You can live a long and productive life [with HIV], and you can have as much energy as you want."

Selected writings


(With Eric Marcus) Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo, Cahners Business Information, 1997.



Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale Group, 2001.

Sports Stars, Series 1-4, U*X*L, 1994-98.


Advocate, August 18, 1998, p. 69.

Houston Chronicle, February 1, 2001, p. 13.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 20, 1996; March 18, 1996; March 20, 1996; March 22, 1996; March 27, 1996; September 11, 1996; May 23, 2000.

People Weekly, February 5, 1996, p. 126-127; March 11, 1996, p. 52-56; April 17, 2000.

Sports Illustrated, January 29, 1996, p. 36-39; April 24, 2000, p. 27.

Time, March 18, 1996, p. 84-85.


"Rudy Galindo Biography," Rainbow Ice,, (March 24, 2003).

"Rudy Galindo Feature,",, (March 24, 2003).

"Rudy Galindo Official Website,", (March 24, 2003).

Janet P. Stamatel

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