The Unforgettable "Memory Olympics"

Competitors at the USA National Memory Championship
Competitors at the USA National Memory Championship, a one-day event at which mental athletes have to remember pictures, names, poetry, and the order of an entire deck of playing cards.

All of us experience the odd memory lapse from time to time. Not the competitors in this weekend's USA National Memory Championship, though.

At the competition, 52 mental athletes at the peak of their game tried for unforgettable performances, reports CBS Evening News weekend anchor Jeff Glor.

As a judge calls out "You may begin," the athletes begin flipping playing cards into piles.

But what may look like a card trick is actually an incredibly complicated exercise - seeing 52 cards drawn a certain way - and then recreating that exact same order - every card, just right - in a matter of minutes.

This year, past champions Chester Santos and Ram Kolli were among the favorites. But this was the strongest field ever, and the man who got the most attention was Afghanistan war veteran Ronnie White, a guy who got kicked out of college for bad grades, if you can believe it, he then honed his memory skills under the toughest conditions imaginable.

"My training has been off the charts," White said. "I started in September and I've been training three hours a day. I've been training underwater. I've have been training with kids climbing all over me."

He added, "I did practice in Afghanistan. … Every 90 days I journaled my training."

Every competitor has their own training regimen.

So how do you remember this stuff?

"If you want to remember anything you need a picture for it," said White. "So if you want to memorize a deck of cards you've got to have pictures for them."

He demonstrates how, for every playing card, he has imagined a person, an action, and an object to go with it. Then as he sees the cards, he groups them in to sets of three, thinking of the person associated with the first card, the action for the second and the object for the third. The result: little stories that he can remember. Stories like, in one example, "Martha Stewart sidekicking a t-shirt.

In another, "Chuck Norris scanning food."

The competition only lasts one day, but it's one of the most stressful one day workouts the mind could imagine - names, numbers, poetry: remember or go home.

Today, Ronnie White's system paid off. When it was all over, he was on top.

"I'm thrilled. I'm exhilarated," he said. "If I wasn't such a man I'd cry."