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Memorable win in tricky brain work Olympiad

THE award for best memory in a recent mental olympiad has gone to a 20-year-old student who says he was always tortured by having a poor memory - until 16 months ago.

Wang Feng can memorize 480 digits in five minutes and correctly recall the order of 52 playing cards in a shuffled deck in 24 seconds.

That's what he did, and a whole lot more to clinch the gold medal in the 19th World Memory Championships in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, on December 5.

And in one year's practice his memory took quantum leaps forward.

Wang, a major in land resources management at Wuhan University, is the first Asian to win the title in the championship's 19 year years. He defeated 148 rivals from more than 20 countries.

He also set a competition record by accumulating 9,486 points. He shattered four previous championship records among the 10 disciplines, including abstract images, binary numbers, hour numbers, names and faces, speed numbers, historic dates, hour cards, words, spoken numbers and speed cards.

Wang's record-breaking performance included memorizing 2,280 digits in one hour and conquering a random list of 200 English words. Wang was not born with a great memory.

"I have no super power," he said, adding that he used to complain about a poor memory and found it exhausting to memorize and recite from textbooks.

"My parents don't have great memories, so I have no inherited advantage," he said.

He attributes his success to specific "mind mapping" techniques that he started learning in July 2009.

"I was tortured by my poor memory but then my classmates told me there were ways to improve memory." He joined the university's memory club and took daily training sessions of 30 minutes or an hour every day.

His teacher was Yuan Wenkui, who took part in the 17th World Memory Championships and was honored a "world memory master." Yuan was also a student at Wuhan University.

"Inspired by Yuan's success, I decided to compete to test my limits," Wang said.

Relentless training began. They rented an apartment of less than 20 square meters and Wang trained from 8am to 5:30pm, and sometimes to midnight.

Wang has special "tricks." For example, in the speed number test that requires a contestant to memorize as many as one number read out per second, Wang creates in his mind a familiar setting. Then he associates the digits with some common items in an order and finally makes up a story to help himself remember.

"The number '65' reminds me of a urinal and '58' sounds like a tail in Chinese pronunciation, so I make it like a big tail of a squirrel. Then there's a story about a squirrel standing on a urinal."

Wang's Achilles' heel is remembering and matching names and faces. The competition required entrants to match as many as faces and names as possible in 15 minutes.

"It seems to me that foreigners look alike, so I performed poorly in this part," he joked.

Wang likes reciting classics such as San Zi Jing (Three Character Classic), a Confucian book suitable for teaching children, and Di Zi Gui (Standards for being a Good Student and Child), with his peers.

His great memory skills have made study and life a lot easier.

"Now I can memorize a new bus route with a simple glimpse and recite a vocabulary book in seven days," he said.

Due to Wang's stellar performance, China achieved a breakthrough in this year's contest, after clinching the group championship with five gold medals, three silvers and six bronzes. Germany and the United Kingdom followed in ranking.

The World Memory Championships was founded in 1991 by Briton Tony Buzan, inventor of Mind Maps and memory-building techniques. The annual event is the highest level competition in memory skills.

Wang has already started mapping his future. He plans to work in memory research and development to give full play to his talent because he doesn't excel in his major field of study - land resources management.


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