Alex Mullen has an extraordinary talent: after just 16 seconds of flicking through a pack of cards, he can recall their exact order. The 26-year-old medical student began using memory techniques to help with his university degree, but he picked them up so quickly that soon he was entering competitions, eventually becoming the International Association of Memory world champion in 2015. At the championships, which take place again this December, “memory athletes” compete to remember the most in the shortest time, in categories that include card sequences, names, faces and dates of historic events.
“My first world championships win was very surreal. I was training hard, but winning was never really on my radar,” Mullen says. “When I won by literally one second, on the tenth and final event, I didn’t really process it.” Yet he went on to win the championships again in 2017, is ranked No 1 in the world and holds multiple records for his recall skills.