Mental muscles flexed at Mind Sports Olympiad
August 24, 1997
Web posted at: 2:06 p.m. EDT (1806 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- Men and women of exceptional brain power took part in the first-ever Mind Sports Olympiad in London. The
Gold went to Dominic O'Brien, who emerged as the overall
winner, retaining his title as the world's best memorizer.
O'Brien won the title after 12 grueling events and competing
against brain athletes from 49 countries in the week-long
The organizers said the idea behind the event was to counter
the traditional pattern of equating Olympics with brawn and
pure muscle power.
"The body was being given all the publicity, so you had the
world athletic championships, you had rugby championships,
you had football championships -- and where was the brain? I
mean, the brain was at the head of all these bodies," said
organizer Tony Buzan.
The Mind Olympiad was divided into roughly three categories.
In the category for board games, competitors faced off in the
African Owari, the ancient Chinese Go, and chess. Scrabble
and crosswords figured in the same category.
Card games, including bridge and the German Skat, were
another brain cell discipline.
But perhaps the most prestigious events were those that
tested memory and creative thinking. In the speed card event,
for instance, the contestants had to recall a shuffled deck
of playing cards against the clock, with a maximum time
allowed of five minutes. The competitors then had 10 minutes
in which to recall the order of the 52 playing cards.
The tension in the room was noticeable as players were
reciting their cards whilst all around them their rivals were
calling out their memorized sequences.
O'Brien was able to remember the cards in under 40 seconds. He was also able to recall a string of several thousand
numerical digits in sequence.
The champ said he found that exercising the brain actually
resulted in something like an "expanding filing cabinet."
224K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Great thinkers would likely have agreed with O'Brien. The
Greek philosopher Plato already maintained that mental sports
were essential training for philosophers as well as kings.
And Communist revolutionary Lenin called chess the gymnasium
of the mind, and wanted all good Communists to learn how to
Even modern capitalists seemed to agree. The Olympiad of the
Mind was sponsored by the Swedish Financial Services Company
Skandia, which presented O'Brien with a cycle helmet and
brain insurance worth $1.5 million.
Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.