AUTHOR: Boris Konrad
The strongest field of a memory competition in the history of memory sports ever. Nothing less can be said about the athletes who meet at the beautiful Ancol area of Jakarta this weekend, not to relax but to find the new Champion of the World in memory. 8 out of the top 9 of the all-time World Ranking list are competing, 20 countries are represented, when over the course of three days the memory athletes try to memorize as many digits, playing cards, words, names and faces or historic dates as possible.
Dominating the sport over the last two years is Alex Mullen (25), World Memory Champion 2015. With amazing World Records such as memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in under 17 seconds as the first human ever, he is number one favorite in most experts’ eyes. After going pro as a memory athlete for a while he is now back at Medical School. Does less time to prepare mean less chance to win?
One thing is for sure, if he does not perform at peak, it won’t be enough. Too strong is the field of athletes eager to take the crown. There are the German veterans of memory sports. Johannes Mallow (36) was World Champion in 2012 and dominated the World Rankings before Alex came along. He is competing in memory since 2004, which means the competitors of the kids’ age division joining the World Championships were not even born, when Hannes pocketed his first medals. Winning both the Korean and French Open 2017 Hannes might be in his best shape ever. Simon Reinhard (38) being both his close friend and long-time competitive rival, certainly aims for his fist World Champion title. Often named a favorite, he has two silver and three bronze medals in his shelf and just got European Champion a few weeks back. He certainly has the desire to win Gold, showing all the young talents, that being little over 12 months away from your 40th birthday is no reason not to have the sharpest mind.
Also from Europe travels the Swede Marwin Wallonius. Like Alex also a medical student, competing since 2012 he first stood a little in the shadow of fellow young Swedish Jonas von Essen. But while Marwin is quieter and less eccentric than Jonas, his shadow is no spot he enjoyed to be in for long and at the World Championships 2015 it was Marwin battling for the World title till the last second. In 2017 he only competed at the Swedish Championships, which he won, but with scores that won’t be enough in Jakarta. However, if the current World Ranking Number 3 finds his previous level back, anything is possible.
Will the experience help Johannes, Simon and Marwin? While they show top level for years, they do not bring the steep improvement curve of several newcomers who sky-rocketed to incredible levels in a very short time. Mongolia’s biggest hope to win has the name Narmandakh. And that hope is doubled, since sisters Enkhshur and Munkhshur both have what it takes to maybe become the first ever female memory athlete to win the World title. Munkhshur is the current Asian champion and also got second in Korea this year. Just at home turf she took a miss – Lkhagvadulam Enkhtuya won the Mongolian title 2017 and is another woman to look out for also in Jakarta. In particular, for the junior age division (13-17 years), as she is still competing in that one. Joachim Thaler from Austria – a name only known to big experts of memory sports – was in 2004 the last junior to also win an overall medal at the World Championships. Will that series end this year?
Joining the Mongolian team is also Yanjaa Wintersoul. She has a multi-national background, previously competed for Sweden, where she spent many years of her life and recently won the Golden buzzer on the Swedish Got Talent version for a display of remembering names. That discipline is certainly one to expect great results from her, but also in the overall ranking.
A large team is also coming from China with many strong athletes aiming high. Highest ranked Chinese athlete is Lujian Zou, number 5 in the World Rankings and winner of the Malaysian Open this year, where he memorized a deck of cards in 17.36 seconds, the World’s second best time ever. His scores in the digits events are equally impressive for the fact that he is competing only for little over a year. It will be exciting how much higher his learning curve went up and if he is able to catch up on his weak spot in names, where in the past he lost valuable points that prevented him from ranking even higher.
But maybe the winner is not even named here? The amount of people reaching previously unimaginable levels in memory sports is impressive. The local Indonesians certainly want to be great hosts, but will forget about that hospitality in the competition and also show how much memory sport has grown. They do not have to deal with jetlag like the European or American competitors and that might play a role in a mind-based game such as memory.
The World Memory Championships will start Friday, December 1st and we expect the first results in the evening. The arbiter team trained by the Asian Memory Sports Association and long-standing top memory arbiter Andy Fong will have a lot of data to check, as it starts with 30-minute binary numbers. In this discipline the top athletes will aim for over 5000 random zeros and ones memorized. How well they manage to do that will allow us a first glimpse of who is on top of this game and who already has to play catch-up after day 1.