Eight months later, in London, he feels distinctly less confident. The unfortunate truth is that after winning the USA title, White slacked off. In what is a common post-win phenomenon (think Michael Phelps), he struggled with motivation. Instead of maintaining his diet, he devoured buffalo-chicken sandwiches and French fries. He spent hours watching baseball and entire weeks ignoring calls from his SEAL coach. Sometimes he wished he'd never heard of the World Memory Championship. In the restless hours leading up to the tournament, a Jim Rohn quote kept coming to mind: "The keys to being successful are easy to do, but they're also easy not to do, and that's what gets most people." All White had to do was practice. But it was soooo easy not to. In one journal entry, he'd written: "I am very easily led off course by women—master myself; I sleep too late—master myself; I put off memory training—master myself."
With a month to go, he'd finally forced himself to resume training. He made jumbo-size lists of accomplishments and concocted new punishments for his misdeeds. (One self-imposed penalty was mailing a check to the American Civil Liberties Union.) He even reviewed mental images in a cemetery. "It was," as White puts it, "a reminder that hey, you'd better do it now, because one day you won't have the chance."
But in London he feels fuzzy-headed, which leads to a series of careless mistakes. During the most-numbers-memorized-in-an-hour event, he messes up the 390th digit and stops. Turns out you're allowed to continue. "That's my fault for not knowing the rules," he says. On the following day, he memorizes 12 decks in an hour—"I had 'em cold!" he'll say later—but during recall he's surprised to get a sheet of paper instead of more cards with which to reconstruct the order. Having to write the suits trips him up and he comes in close to last. On the final day, in his strongest event, he memorizes a single deck of cards in a personal-best minute 17 seconds. And this time he's given a new deck of cards to demonstrate his recall, but when an arbiter reviews the results, she uncovers a fatal flaw: He missed the 22nd card. When he sees his mistake, White feels as if someone has punched him in the gut.
For the second year in a row, Pridmore is crowned world champion. Two German competitors eclipse their compatriot Karsten to take second and third, followed by a tracksuited Weng Feng from China in fourth. White finishes 30th. As the contenders prepare for the awards ceremony, the dejected Texan plops down in a leather chair. "It's all about the training, and I trained for the USA like a madman," he says. "But you know, I came and got ideas for new strategies." Searching for the upside to his sputtering finish, he zeros in on something his SEAL coach said: "It's never about the end result; it's about who you become in the process." White has a gleam in his eye now. "You know what? I'm the most motivated I've been since March," he says. "I'm gonna give up alcohol, lose weight. I'm gonna defend my USA title and be a legitimate contender for the next five years." He's already got a plan: "I want to get a group of men and women to represent the U.S. well. I mean, I don't think I'm gonna win, but what kind of Rocky movie would that be? He loses, then comes back and beats the communists—it'd be like Rocky IV!"
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Online Exclusive: Q&A With 2010 USA Memory Champ Ron White