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Mental muscles flexed at Mind Sports Olympiad

Competition between players 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 event.

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.

Olympiad competitor

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." icon 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 play.

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.


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