The whole day I felt incredibly calm, which was a big difference from last year where I was a right old mess. I don't know why I was like that last year. Maybe it was because of the film crew that was there or maybe the pressure of trying to win a 3rd championship in a row. Either way, this year felt totally different. I didn't have anything to prove, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy myself.
Right out of the gates I set a US record for the most Names & Faces memorized in 15 minutes, a whopping 193! I'm pretty sure that record will stand for a while because most people hate names, don't bother practicing, or just don't get very good at them. 175 was the previous record. Michael Glantz got 169 and then under that was Saira Kothari with 152. Great scores, but after that, the next highest one was 118. Big discrepancy.
Then it was Speed Numbers. For the first attempt I went conservative and landed at around 306 digits, but I had a blank for one set of images so I knew my score would be 286. Not bad, but not great. The second attempt felt much more fluid and I ended up with 350 digits, with a possible mistake. It ended up being two mistakes, which took my score down to 310, which was enough for a new record! Usually I'm miles ahead of everyone on numbers, but this year there were some really beefy scores trailing me. Alex Mullen with 258 (amazing), and Livan Grijalva and Lance Tschirhart both with 220.
Poetry felt great. It was a pretty smooth and easy poem with lots of capital letters (always amps up the score). I wrote down 230 points and knew I had two rows that were incorrect, so I ended up with a score of 208, still enough to beat out the poetry master, Michael Glantz. PHEW.
Sitting pretty in first, next came Speed Cards. I had thought about going all out and not caring whether I got a perfect deck or not, banking on the fact that I had done well enough in the previous events to send me into the finals in case I flunked the cards. But I played it safe, going for 66 seconds on the first try. It was a really good deck, I really should have put it down after one look through. I mean, it had me (Ace of Diamonds) waving (9 of Diamonds) at a mountain (5 of Hearts). When will that ever happen in competition again?? My mom was there, my bro, my sis, my dad, all my friends....ARGH! And it was SO FAST the first time through. Was sub-30 seconds for sure. Oh well, woulda, coulda, shoulda. The second attempt I went fast, but not super fast....got 44 seconds, but had 2 mistakes. Couldn't remember if Jack Black was putting lipstick on his hand or on a draedel. CURSES! My risky move there cost me the national record, and Johnny Briones snagged it from me by 3 seconds (60 seconds on the nose, the old record was 63). I've been trying to beat the minute mark in competition for years now. And although I've done it in international competitions (40.65 seconds), I really wanted to do it in the US one. No matter, I'm happy either way.
Needless to say I was first all around after all that and was moving on to the afternoon finals rounds with Alex Mullen, Livan Grijalva, Brad Zupp, Lance Tschirhart, Johhny Briones, Patrick Walsh, and Mike Mirski (in that order).
Round 1: Words to Remember
I knew this round would be tough this year and it proved to be so. I went for 140 words, which is way more than ever necessary, but I wasn't 100% sure. I can do 250 in 15 minutes, so 140 is easy. But then again, you never know....one mis-spoken word and you're out. So you need to be ABSOLUTELY sure of all your words. As I predicted, we went pretty high with the words. I believe the last person to get eliminated was on the 80th or so word. Us remaining guys asked if we could keep going to show off our memory muscles and I blanked on word 127. Alex kept going to 137. Impressive. Johnny and Brad made silly mistakes early on (Johnny said "architecture" instead of "architect" and Brad said "light bulb" instead of "bulb") while Patrick just blanked at around the 80 mark. 5 competitors remained.
Round 2: Tea Party
This event is always super easy for me, even though they've increased the amount of people to 6 from 5 over the past years. I ended up getting stuck with all the names and pets for some reason. I came out of the gate missing the first kid's name (I knew his first and last but didn't want to give up information to the person after me) getting my first strike. That sucked. But I knew I wouldn't miss anything else. Everyone else slowly racked up strikes and before we knew it, Mike and Livan were out. Lance, Alex, and I were moving on to the finals.
Round 3: Double Deck O' Cards
Ah, the famous 2010 reverse mistake made by me...came back again and caused Lance to get eliminated. We got back on stage after memorizing for 5 minutes and I started with the first card: 6 of diamonds. Instantly, Lance said something like "wait, I thought we were starting with the blue deck!?" So he had to quickly jump to a different location in his mind to find the card from the other deck. Under pressure, he wasn't able to do it and was out before he had even started. Shame, but I'm sure he'll never mess that up again! So now it was down to me and Alex, who had been cold and calculated all day long, hiding in the shadows as an underdog, without any press haggling him (because he was a newcomer). I was quite nervous, but ultimately I knew I had both decks perfectly memorized. I told myself, let me just do what I know I can do and if he makes a mistake, so be it. So I kept going. I didn't once break my focus or look at the audience, I just staying in my memory palace and I wasn't leaving until I finished. Alex ended up blanking on the 66th card...and before I knew it, I was the champion again.
At first I didn't even react, but then as I gave my speech, I kinda choked up, realizing what a journey it's been since last year. I didn't say it on stage there, but I should have, but I'm pretty sure that was my last USA Memory Championship. I always wanted to win 3 times and I always wanted to leave on a high note. It doesn't get any higher than that.
So there it is. I can now put that behind me, and start moving towards the bunch of other projects I have on the horizon.