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Olympics: Lindsay Vonn, skiing, Shaun White, snowboarding and figure skating

Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, February 18, 2010; 11:00 AM

Sports columnist Tracee Hamilton was online Thursday, Feb. 18 from Vancouver to discus Lindsay Vonn's gold medal in downhill skiing, Wednesday night's snowboard half pipe medal round, Thursday night's men's free skate program, the scene in Vancouver and all her latest columns from the Winter Olympics.

Full Coverage: 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

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Best moment?: What stood out most for you yesterday? Lindsay Vonn? Shaun White? Shani Davis? And can you ever remember such a loaded Olympic day?

Tracee Hamilton: I CAN'T remember a day quite like it, certainly not at a Winter Games. I thought all three moments were great, for their own reasons. Shaun White's performance was probably the most exciting just because, while all three are dominant in their disciplines, he is so far above everyone else -- literally -- that it's kind of breathtaking.

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Falls Church, Va.: If snow board half pipe is an event at the Winter Games, why isn't skateboarding half pipe an event at the Summer Games? Didn't skateboarding lead to snow boards?

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, and I don't know why. I'm not sure skateboarding has tried to become an Olympic sport. I think snowboarding was a natural because the Winter Games was chock full of very staid sports. I love love love the biathlon, but (thankfully) you don't see kids doing it very often.

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Bethesda, Md.: Both Tony Kornheiser and Bob Ryan criticized your cauldron column as criticizing a unimportant part of the overall Olympic task of hosting the Olympics. Do you stand by your column that Vancouver made a huge mistake by not maximizing tourist photo ops?

washingtonpost.com: Tracee Hamilton - From the hidden cauldron to the wicked weather, it's the Olympic flame-out in Vancouver (Washington Post, Feb. 17)

Tracee Hamilton: I walked over yesterday to see the cauldron and the lines and yes, I stand by that column, of course. If Salt Lake City had put the cauldron behind a chain link fence, Americans would have rioted. Canada has made a big, big point of trying to involve the entire country in these Games and the cauldron is a big part of that effort. Not my interpretation, but their words. It's called the Legacy Cauldron for heaven's sake. Tony and I will have words.

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Oakton, Va.: So, will Lindsay Vonn's gold medal win silence the critics who only focus on ther SI pictures? So what if she posed in a swimsuit? She looked good and was able to back up the hype with a medal.

Tracee Hamilton: Hope so. I had a column written in my head about the SI issue but haven't had a chance to put it to keypad and probably won't now. I don't understand the criticism. I thought it was great to see a beautiful, athletic woman in a magazine that at least purports to be about ... athletes. Plus the window for making money in her sport is a fairly small one -- witness yesterday's crashes -- so if she's trying to capitalize on all her opportunities, who are we to tell her she can't?

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Washington, D.C.: Ms Hamilton- Would it be fair to say there are two Olympics ... the one on-ground in Vancouver and the TV version? Read your column yesterday and there is very little mention (save the photo ops at the fire) of any problems.

washingtonpost.com: Tracee Hamilton - From the hidden cauldron to the wicked weather, it's the Olympic flame-out in Vancouver (Washington Post, Feb. 17)

Tracee Hamilton: Oh, absolutely. Always has been. NBC packages things to the point where I am not sure I would recognize my experience compared to what they show. I should have DVR'd some of it but then I might have missed my favorite shows. An example: Turin was not a very attractive place. There was one beautiful square, and that's where NBC set up its stage -- and closed it to everyone else. We didn't get to see it until the Monday after Closing Ceremonies. That's the first time I knew Turin was attractive.

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Leesburg, Va.: I understand literally nothing about snowboarding. I know it's done by people much cooler than I will ever hope to be. I can't really tell the difference between one flippie-spinnie thing that they do and another. I don't know what a "Cork" is or a "McTwist."

But, it was so obvious to me just -how much better- Shaun White was than everyone else. They aren't even in the same league, and it's astonishing.

I can't really tell why one figure skater is better than another (except when they fall), or gymnasts, or divers ... it all looks the same to me. But, I can tell that Shaun White is just absolutely peerless in his sport, and it's awesome to watch.

Tracee Hamilton: Agreed! I feel the same. He's amazing.

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Washington, D.C.: How were the snow conditions yesterday at the women's downhill? I'm wondering if icy conditions, uneven patches, etc. contributed to the crashes yesterday.

Tracee Hamilton: We kept hearing that the course wasn't that hard or dangerous but clearly there were some slickER spots. Maybe black ice? :) They are lowering that final jump, which will help, but it seemed there were bad patches all over the place. I was amazed no one was more seriously hurt.

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Women's Team Sports: I've noticed a significant lack of coverage for women's ice hockey by the WaPo and other newspapers. I understand that there are more recognizable stars in men's hockey; but, if we can get myriad profile stories about and highlights from women's skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating athletes, why can't WaPo profile women hockey players as well? Is there really so little interest among your readers? I find it hard to believe I'm the only one who cares how the ladies are doing...

Tracee Hamilton: Well, you're right. We've only got three people here this time -- I think we had nine in Turin -- so it's tough to be everywhere. And the U.S. women are SO dominant that these round-robin games just seem like something we can skip. When the U.S. plays Canada, it's a different story. I don't think either team will be challenged until that game.

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Reston, Va.: As I was watching skier after skier crashing during the women's downhill last night, I was wondering: How much of that was due to the course being so demanding, and how much of that was due to them not being able to practice on the course?

I wonder if the IOC is second-guessing themselves over their decision to hold the Olympics at a place that has average temperatures of 50-degrees in February.

And on Shawn White: He is definitely operating on a different level than everyone else in the sport. His runs were insane.

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, the lack of training runs was a problem, I think. Most had never skied the bottom of the course. I can't imagine coming down a mountain at 70 miles per hour and not knowing what was around the bend. I do question the decision to put the Games here; the climate is so mild. My long johns haven't been out of the drawer yet and I have yet to wear layers, either. The IOC knew about the problems at Whistler. I still say -- all Winter Olympics in Lillehammer!

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On psyche: Can you feel the pressure on the Canadian hockey team? And is there as much pressure on the Canadian women's hockey team? The U.S. is the favorite, right?

Tracee Hamilton: I watched a clip yesterday morning -- or maybe it was 2 mornings ago -- of the Russian team practicing. Then I watched a clip of the Canadian team practicing. The difference was astounding. Thanks to Ovechkin, the Russians were laughing and goofing and having fun. The Canadians were tighter than ticks. The pressure is tremendous and the Canadians have really set this up as a Crosby vs. Ovechkin thing as well.

The U.S. women should be favored, but the Canadians will certainly be pumped on home ice. Should be a great game because those are two teams who "plain don't like each other."

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SI pics: I seem to remember way back the women's soccer team took some grief for pictures. One of them responded "I worked damn hard for this body and I'm proud of it."

Vonn must spend hours a day in training both off and on the slopes. You go girl!

Tracee Hamilton: That's what a lot of the skiers said in support of Lindsey. They do work hard.

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McLean, Va.: Is John Shuster just outclassed on an international stage, or is he suffering from one of the worst cases of the yips in Olympic history? Watching him miss two winning shots in as many ends had me screaming at my TV far more than curling should.

Tracee Hamilton: I'm sorry I missed this so I can't comment with authority. The curling is often on the MPC and venue TVs but it's often the Canadians. Yesterday a Chinese journalist sat at my table and commandeered the TV for the Chinese curling match. I haven't seen much of Shuster, I'm afraid.

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Bridgewater, Mass.: What's with the Russians? Their papers are practically hysterical over the lack of medals so far (somebody suggested impaling the officials in charge, but I think it was just rhetorical). Bad luck, under-preparation, or have their sports just not come up yet?

Tracee Hamilton: The Russian media ... hard for me to comment tactfully. They wear team jackets, for starters. They cheer in the venues (the equivalent of cheering in the press box). It's just a different world, journalistically, than ours. If you consider yourself a part of the team, you probably would get hysterical over no medals. It's an unhealthy relationship. I am surprised they haven't done better but there were a certain number of Russians left home for popping drug tests. Not sure if that has had an effect but perhaps...

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Not Vancouver: Not an Olympics question, but what does it say when Drew Gooden will go to the Clippers rather than the Wizards? Is there no end to the indignities?

Sorry, just needed to vent.

Tracee Hamilton: Ha! I was sure unhappy about Drew, who like me is a Jayhawk. I've been trying to keep up with the Wizards stories and have about given up. Never seen a franchise blown up like this, for this reason. All very surreal. Now, back to the Games!

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Fairfax, Va.: Tracee

Is the administration of the Olympics as big a disaster as the press is painting? Obviously the weather is beyond their control, but they didn't seem to have a plan B for warmer weather, which in not unusual during winter in the Pacific Northwest. Seems like the Cedar Creek area wasn't a good choice. The cauldron thing is a bad visual, but ice machines, buses, etc. seem to be horrid planning.

Tracee Hamilton: Well, the mistakes have been pretty big. I stick by what I wrote a couple of days ago. Of course they can't help the weather but if it takes two ice prep machines to do the oval in Richmond, I would have had four machines on site. And I might have gone with the leading machine in the business, and the one my head ice groomer normally uses. Stuff like that ... very preventable.

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Greencastle, Ind.: Has there been a more frightening image at the Games than this morning's Today Show, featuring Al Roker wearing the pants worn by Norway's curling team? How many tables will go uncovered to perpetrate this atrocity on us?

washingtonpost.com: Norway's crazy pants (msnbc.com, Feb. 18)

Tracee Hamilton: That shot should have come with a warning to remove children from the room.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Ok, so I will admit that I'm in my 40s and probably not all that tolerant. I will further admit that snowboarding certainly does have entertainment value and requires skill and physical conditioning. That said, would it be possible to

1) Enforce some type of grooming requirement - the Asian dude with dreads just looked silly.

2) Come up with names for the tricks that don't sound like a bunch of, well, stoners wrote them? I don't want my kids sounding like the "skate or die" idiots in my office parking lot. Besides, McTwist 1260 sounds the the calorie count of a fast food breakfast sandwich.

Tracee Hamilton: I don't understand half of what these guys say. After interviewing Louie Vito last fall I subscribed to his twitters. They are sometimes incomprehensible but I really like that kid. Anyway, one thing many snowboarders fear is that the Olympics will beat the "originality" out of their sport, and I think they work hard to prevent that from happening. (The hair I thought was the strangest was the French kid's mustache.) I do wish they'd pull up their pants, though.

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Skating Fan: Any reports of how the main contenders in men's figure skating are looking in practice? Predictions on the outcome of tonight's big event?

Tracee Hamilton: With three people here, practices are just impossible, so I don't know. Predictions? Oh boy, I think Plushenko and Lycacek will put on a show. Did they show the Kazahkstani kid, Denis Ten, during the short program? If not, look for him tonight. He's a lot of fun.

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Overland Park, Kan.: Tracee, have you seen anything yet in Vancouver similar to the all-day chocolate extravaganza in Turin?

Tracee Hamilton: Sadly, no. Turin was great for chocolate and cheese.

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Going Green: Is it wrong that I chuckled when I heard that the eco-friendly "zamboni" couldn't cut it, and they had to bring a climate-change-bringin' zamboni in from Calgary?

Tracee Hamilton: Yes, you are wrong! Just kidding; I had the same thought. Bring on the American-made gas guzzlers!

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Opening Ceremony: Last week, the priest at my church built his homily around the Olympics (he talked mostly about the deceased luger). He said that the Chinese opening ceremony was more spectacular, but he much preferred the Vancouver opening ceremony because the Canadians involved the audience as participants. I didn't see either opening ceremony, so don't know what he meant, but wondered if you agree.

Tracee Hamilton: The Chinese ceremony was spectacular and precise. The Canadian ceremony was very Canadian -- looser, warm, etc. The audience participated with lights and also everyone had to wear a white poncho. They used lights to "paint" images on that white "canvas." So the audience was definitely involved. The Chinese did one unforgivable thing, I thought. They used a cute little girl to "sing" but we learned later she was lip-synching and the beautiful voice was another, apparently less attractive little girl. That sort of summed up the Chinese approach. I liked the Canadian ceremonies -- but I'm from Kansas and I like that kind of thing.

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Ashburn, Va.: How big is the Chinese women's hockey team goalie?

I was watching, I think, China vs. Finland women's hockey the other night and I was just astounded by their goalie. They seemed to go with the strategy of "Just put the biggest person who can skate in goal."

She stopped plenty of shots, but it didn't appear to be because she was particularly fast, athletic, or skilled. It seemed a lot more like there just isn't a lot of empty space between her and the net.

I can't seem to find any Ht/Wt stats on her, though.

Tracee Hamilton: I am sorry to say I'm still in my room so I can't look this up for you. But now I'm very curious and will investigate.

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Washington, DC: Who do you like tonight? Plushenko, Lysechek or Takahasi?

Tracee Hamilton: I think Plushenko will be tough to beat. But Lysacek has a great long program.

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Rockville, Md.: What do you think of this whole rivalry between South Korea and U.S. in short track? I saw the short track and think that Ohno was interfered with, although I don't know alot about it. What do you think?

Tracee Hamilton: There's been bad blood there a long time. I did think there was some justice in the two Koreans who were throwing elbows winding up in the boards. But that's a rough sport.

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Sec 114, Row E: Tracee, any word on when the WaPo will name the new Nats beat writer.

Camp opens tomorrow, right? I know that you'll have Boswell, Sheinen and Harlan down there for now... but isn't it time?

What about Kilgore? Any truth to the rumor that he's got the gig?

Tracee Hamilton: I can neither confirm or deny ... but expect the white smoke any minute.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi - I don't have a question so much as a favor -- Could the Post PLEASE NOT POST THE MEDAL RESULTS ON ITS HOMEPAGE BEFORE THE EVENT HAS BEEN AIRED ON NBC?

During last night's skiing and half-pipe there wasn't any drama since you all couldn't keep the secret ... at least have a SPOILER ALERT screen so if folks want to know they can click on it before you ruin it for the rest of us. Otherwise, great coverage in the Post, thanks.

Tracee Hamilton: Nope, sorry. This is a crazy thing to ask a NEWSpaper to do. We write about the State of the Union speech in advance, for heaven's sake. When we have news, we publish it. And so does everyone else. It's not our job to help NBC. NBC is doing just fine on its own.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is this a complaint for NBC or someone else: I like to watch the Olympics, but it is so annoying to listen to these announcers talk (or in the case of skiing yesterday, yell) about how an athlete is performing. I don't know anything about 90% of the sports in Olympics - unless it's strictly a race or hockey, I can't tell what's good and bad. What would be the harm in the announcer saying: here's what to look for - high jumps, knees together, whatever (I am thinking specifically of the moguls competition). It makes the whole thing boring to watch.

Tracee Hamilton: I can't comment because I don't see the NBC telecasts. Some of the Canadian announcers are very good; I watched some of the moguls on CTV and they did that, explaining what to look for.

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"Come up with names for the tricks that don't sound like a bunch of, well, stoners wrote them?": Are the terms used in figure skating, "Sow-Chao, Lutz, and Axel" really any more "normal" sounding?

Tracee Hamilton: This is true. Every sport has jargon. The snowboarding jargon, to them, is completely normal. To each his own.

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Reston, Va.: I was sad to read this morning that they are literally dumbing down the women's downhill course because of the final jump - lowering the jump and changing a few turns for the giant slalom race. So what if they crashed - it's a fast and dangerous sport. Not everyone crashed though, most made it down the mountain. Is Lindsey Vonn just that much better than everyone else?

Makes me sad though. I didn't see them lowering the half pipe to make it easier for Shaun White's competitors or allowing Shani Davis' competitors to skate 100m less than he does.

And yes, Whistler is notorious for bad weather. Three World Cup races have been canceled there and anyone who has traveled there knows that the weather there is very fickle. For NBC or the media to pretend this is some surprising things is a little nuts.

Tracee Hamilton: I think Lindsey Vonn is that much better, this year, in the downhill than everyone else. I can't agree about the crashes. There are always crashes but there's no reason to have serious injuries.

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Arlington, Va: Do Vonn and Mancuso get along? They said they've been skiing against one another for years, but they didn't seem to share too much of the joy with each other?

Tracee Hamilton: I asked Barry Svrluga about this, because he's the skiing maven. He says they are not friends, enemies, or frenemies. They get along fine but are such different personalities that they're never going to be bosom buddies.

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Burke, Va.: Hi Tracee,

Thanks for the coverage. A couple of comments: Who was the genius that picked the outdoor cauldron location? Seems to be in an industrial port area. NBC's coverage is, well, a lot of fluff. Need more actual sports cowbell. And what is it with the Koreans and Ohno? They don't like him, me thinks. Let's get more Snowboard Cross - that event rocks.

Tracee Hamilton: The cauldron location will be gorgeous -- once the Games end and all the extraneous crap comes out of that area. It's right on the water near their convention center. That was the decision of Vancouver organizers.

The Koreans don't like Ohno. We wrote about this during, I think, the 2002 Games and we got so much hate mail from Korea that it crashed the Post's servers.

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NoMad: Hi Tracee:

This is in no way a slam on your coverage or that of your fellow reporters, but it just doesn't seem like an Olympics to me without Dan Steinberg commenting on the quirky stuff. With only three of you there, you obviously have to cover the hard news. I think it was a serious mistake not to send him and you can tell the bean counters that from a seven day a week paid subscriber to paper edition!

Tracee Hamilton: Believe me, we agree. We need Dan. We need the fabulous Liz Clarke. We need the incomparable Sally Jenkins. We need ... everyone we had in Turin. Sadly, this is our reality.

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Washington, D.C.: Tracee,

Great work. Love your stuff.

What are those goofy blue and green lines spraypainted on the ski slopes (aka vertical ice rinks) and snowboard half pipes? I don't remember seeing them at previous Olympics.

Tracee Hamilton: I think of them as guidelines, not rules. Supposed to help the skiers stay on track.

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washingtonpost.com: Tracee just sent this across: I should throw this out here: A word got dropped out of my column this morning, on my end or back home. Shani Davis is (obviously) not the first black athlete to win an Olympic medal. He's the first black athlete to win an individual WINTER Olympic medal. Thanks, and back to the questions.

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Washington, D.C.: The women's downhill got pushed back just enough so Vonn - who NBC and the USOC are clearly trying to turn into the "Winter Michael Phelps" (in terms of marketing) - can have a chance to win gold despite her injury. The work the athletes put in and the competition are 100 percent authentic, but the spectacle and even some of the post-event emotion seems a little too planned and calculated to me - for example, Vonn putting on waterproof eyeliner before her TV interview. Am I too cynical?

Tracee Hamilton: Oh, she's savvy, no question. But the downhill didn't get pushed back; it was always planned for yesterday. It was the super-combi that got pushed last weekend. And yes, NBC has a lot riding on her. But she's not Phelps; she's the best in the world in three disciplines. That's impressive in skiing, but it's unfair of them to expect her to win all five of her events.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your take on Shani Davis? Is he too cold and aloof to ever be embraced by the American public?

And should we even embrace him? He already talks about moving to the Netherlands or Germany when he retires. How important is he to the diversification of the Winter Games in the U.S. going forward?

Tracee Hamilton: I was happy to see that Shani actually seemed to be enjoying himself last night. And I loved his bit with Colbert last month as well. Maybe we're doing to see a happier Shani. I think he is a complicated guy.

I think he's very important for diversity in the Olympics. He's got a program in D.C., I believe, for minority kids who want to skate. I'm blanking, but maybe at Fort duPont? Anyway, I think a happy Shani is good for the Olympics.

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Bethesda, Md.: NBC, more sports and less fluff please, the story about polar bears was interesting but does not belong in Olympics coverage. And get rid of Chris Collinsworth. Why can't they have more actual winter olympians doing the announcing? I am so tired of Bob Costas and Jimmy Roberts.

Tracee Hamilton: No comment, since I can't see this, but thought I'd post...

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I love the Post, but: I also miss Dan and Liz!

Tracee Hamilton: Shout-outs for Cheese Boy and Miss Liz!

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Maryland: Don't know if this has been talked about, but...

USA Snowboard Teams outfits were TERRIBLE. Who thought making snowboard pants the look like jeans hanging off your behind was a good idea?

Tracee Hamilton: I didn't care for them either, but like I said, I think they are trying to keep their individuality.

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Washington, D.C.: Which events have you had a chance to personally attend? What events have been your favorite?

Tracee Hamilton: I've been to biathlon, Nordic combined, snowboard cross, speed skating. I loved the Nordic combined.

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washingtonpost.com: Tracee just had to run off to catch the bus to head out and cover the afternoon events, but here's what she sent out to everyone while running out the door:

Oops, time for me to catch the bus and figure out what I'm doing today. Thanks, everyone, for the questions and comments!

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