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Interview with Nico Pattyn – European Champion 2007

We bring you an interview with the reigning european champion in single, and former european champion for national teams, the formidable Nico Pattyn!

First of all, congratulations on your first win in the individual championship in Blackpool!


How has life been after winning the European Championships? Have you finally become such a national celebrity that you no longer can walk the streets of Brussels without being run down by hoards of screaming women throwing their underwear at you?

There was some attention by the radio, the newspapers and the local television. There even was a picture on the first page of the second Flemish newspaper together with a female journalist who was very successful in a quiz show on the television at the same time and was considered by some as a kind of babe. Most people I know heard of it in some way, but that’s all.

You are, of course, already European champion for national teams previously, but does this victory feel different for you?

Of course it does, although the team event remains the most important to me. During the individual event, you don’t have the impression you are winning, you just don’t know what the others are doing. The team event is very intense, it’s head to head and we’re not used to it. The victories in Tallinn and Paris are to me the most exciting quiz events I have ever played. But I’m very proud that I have beaten all those excellent players in Blackpool, that’s for sure.

You came very close to winning in Ghent in 2004, losing narrowly to Kevin Ashman, so I expect you are happy with finally winning; is this something you have been aiming for?

Not really. Actually, I was very busy the weeks before the championships as I knew at work my boss retired and I intended to succeed him. I heard the news I had achieved this just three days before the championships! Winning the individual event came as a surprise to me. My aim is always playing as good as I can. When the result is a worse than what I’m used to, than I am a little bit disappointed, but that’s all. There are four events during a European Championship, you have the occasion to look for a new challenge. In Belgium, I even play at least 50 quizzes a year. You win some, you lose some.

Could you tell us a little about your background? What kind of education do you have, what business are you in?

I studied Greek and Latin at high school, then psychology and later on history at the University of Ghent. I work as a psychologist and since the 1st of January I’m the managing director of the “CLB Mandel en Leie” which is a government organisation that gives support to schools in the region of Kortrijk, Roeselare and Menen.

When did you attend your first serious quiz? Did you win?

In 1997, at a football game, I and four friends of mine decided to attend a quiz in a competition in the region of Ghent. We ended ninth (out of about 22-23 teams). Nowadays I’m the only one of that team who is still frequently quizzing. My first individual quiz was about a year later. It was the individual championship of the same competition and I was third. Just until then, I had played no more than 15 quizzes, but I felt that I could easily improve and become a major competitor. Bernard Kreps was the strongest player in that competition at that time. About 2000, I had enough experience to be one of the top players myself.

Category scores in the World Championships reveals that albeit you are very strong in every category, you seem to be exceptionally strong in Arts and Culture. Is this a coincidence, or is this a favourite category of yours?

I’m not sure if culture is my strongest category. I have checked the results of the past World Championships, and I have twice won History, as only once Culture. At the first Championship, both were together in Art and culture, and then I have won too. World is also always a good category. To me, history, geography, art, literature and sports are my favourite subjects. And history is number one.

Are there any categories you dislike, or aren’t particularly interested in? In other words, do you have any weak spots?

Yes I have. Where I live, there are three cinema’s at walking distance, but I rarely go watching movies. And I even haven’t got a television since four years now. So, film and television are among my weakest categories, But my very weakest spot is certainly plants.

Do you read and remember facts mostly because you find learning about it interesting, or are there many subjects you read and learn about only because it might turn up on a quiz?

Fortunately, I’m interested in a lot of things. For instance, I would like to know more about plants. I read my daily newspaper and some magazines very carefully and I take notes. Those notes can handle about the new Miss Belgium, and I don’t care who is the reigning miss. So yes, I memorize things I’m not interested in, but not that much. If you are not interested in a lot of things, I guess you can’t be a top player in a subject when questions are measuring the knowledge in depth.

Do you sometimes make up rules or mnemonics to help memorizing names and lists?

Not at all. But I guess I trained myself as a child without knowing it. I made geographical maps, I was interested in history, sports, and so I knew a lot of geographical and other names in many languages. I guess that makes it easier to memorize new names. They sound familiar because I already know similar names, it’s just more easy to associate.

Do you learn new things mostly by reading books and newspapers or is the Internet your favourite source of wisdom?

Books, magazines and newspapers are the primary source, but I search the net a lot for more information about things I’ve read about. And news sites are also an important source.

Quizzing in Belgium, as far as we’ve been told, does not take place in pubs, but in other arenas like schools. Can you tell us a little about the formats utilized? Do you organize head to head matches in quiz leagues, or do you have competitions where several teams compete at once?

We mostly play with teams of 4 or 5 players. Individual events are very rare. You have some competitions. They often have a tradition for 20 or more years. Questions can be very though. Usually, there are strict rules about the categories of the questions. In some cases, they are organised in several divisions. Each team of a division has to organise a quiz, and at the end of the season the weakest team is relegated to the second division. Last years I play in two competitions. Together, that makes about 15 quizzes. There are also a lot of weekend quizzes. They are organised by schools, sport teams, but also quiz teams. Each year, me and my team organise two competition quizzes, our very difficult Café Den Hemel quiz (which is known in Norway since the European championship in Ghent), an easier quiz for a chess association and a very easy one for a school. Some quizzes in Belgium are very big, with almost 100 teams, but the average quiz has about 25 to 30 teams. A ranking is made by classifying the quizzes by the strength of the teams who were participating. We don’t have head to head matches, but we have some quizzes were you have to show the answer 30 seconds after each question.

Do you know how long such competitions have existed in Belgium?

Some quizzes exist since more than thirty years. It all started at the end of the fifties, when television was introduced.

As we understand it, quizzing takes part mainly in the Flemish regions, but are there no quiz activities among the French that you are aware of?

Really, I haven’t got the faintest idea. I’m not at all a Flemish nationalist and I regret the tendencies towards separation in our country. But it’s a fact that we live rather separated: we have different newspapers, television networks and obviously different quiz scenes. I always heard there isn’t a quiz tradition in the French speaking part of Belgium, but I can’t say I have checked this out.

Is the media paying any attention to the quizleagues?

Sometimes TV networks are newspapers have articles about quizzing. The reason can be some success by Belgian quizzers, but also an easy way to promote a knew quiz show on the telly.

Do you think you’ll ever get fed up with quizzes, or will we still see you at the European championships in the year 2030?

Why not? At that time, I will be 62, so I won’t be a competitor for the title anymore. But it will still be an interesting hobby. As a matter of fact, it is the result of several hobbies. As long as I keep my interest in a lot of things it will be fun to play quizzes, albeit for 10th or 100th place.

Regarding the national team. How is the Belgium team put together, do you try to balance it so every category is well covered, or are the 4 best individuals nominated?

We have a coach who makes the decisions. He usually starts from two allround players (myself and Eric Derycke) who have attended all the European Championships. If there is another player who is very strong in many subjects, like Marc Van Springel or Ronny Swiggers, he or she is also selected. But he definitely tries to make a well balanced team by selecting a fourth player who fills some gaps in the knowledge of the others. In Belgium we have a lot of strong players. Players like Omer Vandriessche or Jean Marivoet up till know haven’t played an individual quiz but are very strong. If we look at the Flemish quiz team ranking, only 5 of the 10 best teams had representatives in Blackpool. There wasn’t anyone present from Hego, the best team in Belgium since three years.

Have you ever competed on quiz shows on television? If so, how did you do?

My first quiz show on the television was in 2001. I have won three times, but lost the final event and so I lost all that I had won before. And a few years ago, I played a quiz show on the Dutch television with team mate Marc Roels, which I lost too. I never have won anything more than a flying ticket. But all the honours make me happy too. J

-Who would win a 1000-questions general quiz between you, Kevin Ashman and Pat Gibson?

Without any doubt: Kevin or Pat.

-Who would win the same quiz if all the questions were about art and culture? I guess Kevin or me. Generally, the more difficult the questions are, the better for me. Especially on subjects like history, geography and art.

Thank you very much!

Updated 21 October:

You will soon be in Oslo, not only to defend you title, but also to try and regain the title for national teams; could you tell us a little about the team’s preparation for this contest?

We do not things in particular in order to be well prepared for the EC. We do have a lot of quizzes every week in Belgium. A week ago, I played the Flemish Championships (240 questions) in the afternoon and a competition quiz in the evening in Dendermonde. Last Friday I played in Bruges with some friends without quizzing experience, on Saturday my team Café Den Hemel played and won the 25th Bosuilenquiz before Clockwork. The Bosuilenquiz for instance really is a high quality quiz, there’s no need to exercise when you can play such delightful quizzes. During the week, I haven’t much time, like almost everybody else I guess.

-What about your own preparations?

I will play a quiz on the Olympic Games on Saturday, so I will prepare myself a little bit on this subject. And I do intend to repeat some geography and history, my strongest subjects. We are playing with four all round players, but Eric for instance is the strongest in classical music, Tom in youth culture and Ronny in film. Off course I won’t reveal all our strengths and weaknesses, otherwise our coach Staf Dujardin would put me out of the selection.

-Hehe, I see, we wouldn’t want that, we’ll let you keep your innermost secrets. But could you tell us a little about how your team is selected?

Since our first international game in Bromley (2003), Staf Dujardin makes the official selection, based on our profiles. Up till now, he is more successful than our football manager. But still, he has to make a choice between the players present in Norway. Some very strong players, like Jean Marivoet our Omer Van Driessche, have never competed in an individual contest, although they are considered as belonging to the top in Belgium. Marc Van Springel has been fourth twice in the WC, but since then he hasn’t played an individual quiz. If they were present, they would all be contenders for the top.

Do you compete in special matches as a team to prepare for the special format of the match play in any way?

Before we went to Paris in 2006, we played once with the national selection, but all the other years we didn’t do anything in particular. As we play with the same team as last year, neither this year we won’t make any special preparations. We are confident we can win, although we know that not only the British, but also the Norwegian, the Finnish, the Dutch, the Estonian and the Welsh team are capable of beating us. I like the format very much, the national event is the most intense quiz event I have ever played. So I really look forward to compete in Oslo. See you!

Looking forward to it, and good luck with your preparations!