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LOST FOR WORDS; Mercury's motormouth challenges the world's fastest talker.

Byline: BOB HAYWOOD

I EYED him up and down and, frankly, he didn't frighten me a bit.

OK, he is a younger man but he's only 5ft 6ins and 12 stone.

Like me, he wears glasses and we haven't got a full head of hair between us.

So this is The Champ - Steve Woodmore, the world's fastest talker, in the Guinness Book of Records for having rattled off 637 words in a minute.

Most people normally speak at between 60 and 120 words per minute.

Phew!

Steve has proudly held the title for the past 13 years and has successfully defended it five times.

But all reigns have to come to an end. And workmates at the Sunday Mercury were convinced I was the man to deliver the knockout blow. After all, I do talk quite a bit. Well, all right, I hardly ever stop.

But, as I was about to discover, there's a world of difference between talking a lot and talking very quickly. Steve lured me into a clinch as soon as we touched gloves. From his pocket, he plucked a paperback - Seawolf by Patrick Robinson - and invited me to select a passage for him to read aloud. 'Any page you like,' he said smugly. I flicked through and chose one containing loads of foreign place names. I never said this fight would be clean.

But Steve came out of his corner like a wildcat and with a rat-a-tat of verbal blows that left me reeling. He's not only blisteringly fast but, with perfect diction, totally comprehensible. I sensed that humiliation was only a few seconds away.

'Fancy a go?' goaded The Champ, with an ice-cold grin that he slowly uncoiled like a left hook.

I limbered up my lips a bit and then tore into the same text. Well, spluttered and stumbled, really. I keep falling over my mouth and making no sense at all.

'How fast was that, do you reckon?' I inquired hopefully but rather pathetically.

'Around 300, I should think,' said TheChamp with just a hint of derision.

And that was it really. The Contender flat on the canvas in Round 1. The Champ looked mildly bored.

I slunk back to the office with my reputation in tatters.

But Steve has seen at all before. A 43 year-old Londoner, he's married with eight children and works as a salesman for Curry's.

Steve discovered his gift when he was a youngster and always rattled away at breakneck speed - to the delight of his schoolpals and the despair of his teachers.

Even now, he has to remember to speak slowly at home or at work.

Since setting the world record in 1990 on Radio Canterbury, he has beaten off all-comers, mainly from the US where, says Steve, his rare talent could have made him a millionaire on the lecture circuit.

Steve is not just a verbal sprinter - he's a marathon man, too. Although his world record is for the number of words spoken in one minute, he once read aloud the whole of the Bible in 5 1 /2 hours.

At home, his wife, Donna, is the chatter-box. Like me, she talks a lot, but not particularly quickly. The couple love talking together 'about life, the universe and everything.'

None of his children have inherited Steve's high-speed gift apart from his 10 year-old son Joe, who is 'a very fast talker.'

But there was a shock in store as Steve and I shook hands to say goodbye. He confided that he's retiring because he's been at the top for so long and has nothing more to prove.

Whichmeans I could be a Contender after all.

Steve will be showing off his amazing ability at Thinktank at Millennium Point in Curzon Street, Birmingham, at 2pm today and next Sunday as part of the Top Speed exhibition.

CAPTION(S):

SECONDS OUT... Mercury man Bob Haywood suffers a knockout blow in his battle against Steve Woodmore PICTURES BY IAIN FINDLAY
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 20, 2003
Words:661
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