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Interview with Feliks Zemdegs (2018)

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October 2, 2018 : Interview with Speedsolving.com member Feliks Zemdegs : He was first interviewed on Speedsolvng.com on October 20th, 2010, when he held world records in 2x2, 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, and 3x3 OH. He has attended 86 competitions and currently holds the world records in 3x3x3 single (4.22 seconds), 3x3x3 average (5.80 seconds), and 3x3x3 One-handed single (6.88 seconds), and is ranked top 5 in many other events. He has set 119 world records over the last 8 years.

Screenshot 2018-10-02 11.09.47.png
Feliks shown center at US Nationals 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Where are you living now and what have you been up to for the last 8 years?
I'm currently still living in Melbourne, Australia, but will be moving to Sydney at the start of next year to begin working full time. Since 2010, I've been studying at high school and university, working, and have continued speedcubing and all the various things that come with it. I finished high school at the end of 2013, then spent 3 years at the University of Melbourne doing a bachelor of commerce, majoring in economics, and worked part time at an internship in my final year. I graduated at the end of 2016. Since then, it's become slightly more complicated!

My original plan was to stay at university and study a masters degree in mechanical engineering. However, the rapid growth of speedcubing presented me with a bunch of opportunities relating to sponsorship, travel, and other projects. I decided to take the first half of 2017 to continue working part time, and spend time on a few cubing-related things, in addition to plenty of speedcubing practice. This culminated in an epic trip to South America for the Latin America Cubing Tour, followed by the 2017 World Championships in Paris. For the last 12 months, I've been studying the mechanical engineering degree part time whilst continuing to travel and compete. Long story short, I decided to withdraw from that degree in June, in favour of working full time at the start of next year. Despite not working or studying at the moment, things are still surprisingly busy!

In 2010, you held the 3x3 Average world record at 8.52 seconds. Today you hold the same record but at 5.80 seconds. What do you see as the biggest factors for such improvement?
I think that there are two main reasons speedcubing times are much lower today. Firstly, I think our solutions have improved significantly over time. There are a ridiculous number of possibilities to consider during F2L pairing, or when trying to figure out an X-cross, that it probably took many years of watching other solves on YouTube, discussing techniques with various people at competitions, etc. in order for this knowledge to be shared around and built upon, and for me to use a lot of it in speedsolves. Algorithms are also incredibly important. I remember learning my OLL and PLL algorithms from Bob Burton's Cubewhiz website. Most of those algorithms I've since replaced with superior ones. Not only have algorithms for standard cases improved, but entire algorithm sets which were once considered impossible or impractical, are now completely viable. Back when I started cubing, ZBLL was basically a nice theoretical idea, and even when Chris Tran started learning them, people saw his solve videos as proof that ZBLL wasn't really very practical for speedsolves. Of course, this turned out to be pretty misguided, and most top speedcubers today know at least a reasonable number of ZBLL algorithms.

The second major improvement is on the hardware side. Put simply, speedcubes have advanced to the point where they can basically do anything you want, and the choice for a main cube is based on personal preference and feel. Magnets have also had a huge impact on solving speed, particularly for larger cubes.

How has your practice routine changed over the last 8 years? Do you deliberately practice differently than you did 8 years ago? What is your practice routine today?
When I started out cubing, my practice regime was pretty basic. I would learn methods, techniques, or algorithms, and then just spam speedsolves until I was comfortable with using them in my solves. Sometimes, I'd take a break from learning new things, and only do solves. I also did plenty of untimed solves, which probably helped with discovering new things via experimentation.

I don't feel like I do things too much differently now. There are always more algorithms to learn, although I've been pretty lazy with that over the last 5 years or so. I probably do a lot more pure speedsolving sessions, as well as intentional competition style practice (with a stackmat, average of 5, competition noises, etc). If I find something in my solves which I'm not happy with, then I'll practice to fix it.

During high school, I would basically practice every single night, but over the last 3-4 years I've had to scale back the practice a fair bit, depending on what else is going on at the time. However, if I have a major competition coming up, or even a local one, I'll definitely make sure I'm ready for it, perhaps more so for the former.

Out of the 86 competitions you've attended, which one was your favorite and why?
It's so hard to choose a single favourite competition, but I'd probably lean towards Worlds 2013 in Las Vegas. It was the largest competition ever (by a huge margin, I believe), and it was the first place where I met so many other cubers for the first time. I can't exactly remember, but basically all of the fastest cubers in the world were attending the championships, it was pretty amazing. Thailand WC in 2011 was very similar, but the scale of the Vegas competition was exciting for the entire community, and for a kid like me.

What makes cubing different today than it was 8 years ago?
There are so many differences between cubing today, and cubing pre-2010. The biggest change is simply the size of the community, which has had some big flow-on effects. The size, reach, frequency, and professionalism of WCA competitions around the world have all increased immensely since 2010. Cubers have far more opportunities to attend these competitions, which further strengthens and grows the community. The size of the cubing market has meant that cubing retailers and manufacturers are also much larger than in the past, and in the last 3-4 years, have started sponsoring speedcubers with things such as puzzles, competition travel, all the way up to their own cube lines (Valk, Hays). The nice thing about this is that (as far as I'm aware) is that it hasn't really caused any animosity - cubers are still all as friendly and open as ever, despite sometimes being supported by different companies. Back in 2010, and even in 2011 and 2012 when I was breaking plenty of world records, I still had to ask my parents to buy me cubes. :p

You've held 119 world records, which ones are you most proud of?
I normally answer the 'favourite record' question with my 9.21 3x3 average, at the beginning of 2010. It was only my second competition, after almost two years of cubing. I'd been posting all of my times and videos on the internet (which definitely annoyed quite a few people, as I couldn't get any official times to back me up), and I was just ridiculously excited to have a chance to get my times officially recognised. The record at the time was Tomasz' 10.07, and I was comfortably sub 10 at home. Breaking the sub 10 barrier was a huge relief for me, and is definitely something I'm very proud of. Similarly, the other 3x3 average 'barrier' records are also some of my proudest. The 8.52, 7.91, 6.54, and the 5.97 averages were all pretty special in their own right, and are a pretty nice streak to own. Perhaps some day I'll get the first sub 5 average, although that seems out of reach for the time being.

Do you think there is a genetic advantage the top speedcubers have or is it all about practice/motivation? Can anyone break the current world records or do you think you need to have talent?
One factor that's really underestimated is time. I think that speedcubing is now at the point where if you didn't start cubing when you were really young, it'd be pretty tough to compete with the best cubers in the world (at least, at 3x3). I'd be surprised if any of the current top 50/100 cubers in the 3x3 average rankings started solving after they were around 14 to 15 years old. Some of them are even younger than that and already have low/sub 7 averages!

I would imagine there's a pretty strong correlation between time spent practicing, and speed, but some people do improve incredibly quickly, which lends itself to the idea of 'talent' in speedcubing. With regular sized hands and decent finger dexterity, there doesn't seem to be any sort of physical barrier. That being said, I don't think that *everyone* can turn as quickly as Max Park or Lucas Etter, and it's hard to pin down any specific reason why this is the case. Or, maybe it is just that they've practiced far more than the average cuber?

If you could give advice to people new to the community who are just starting out cubing and want to become world class, what would it be?
Make sure you start out cubing when you're 10 years old, and practice like crazy through primary and high school! Again, going back to the free time factor - I think that an 18/19 year old certainly has a greater capacity to learn cubing techniques, be self-critical, and improve more quickly than a 10 year old cuber, assuming they spend the same amount of time cubing. However, the average 18 year old is likely busy finishing high school, working, or moving into college, and so doesn't really have the required free time to become world class, at least at 3x3.

Besides that, I'd suggest trying to emulate the solves of fast cubers, as much as possible. There are endless solve reconstructions, example solve videos, etc. from fast cubers, and it's in that way that you'll be able to develop your speedsolving solutions. Turning speed and lookahead are things that come with time and practice, but it's good to keep on evaluating your own solves. If you record a video of your solves, you should be able to pick out the areas which need improvement, and go from there.

In 5 years, where do you see yourself both in cubing and in life in general?
Definitely still cubing, but I certainly won't be vying for world records at the age of 27. I imagine I'll be competing far less than I do now, but probably be involved a bit more on the organisational side of things in Australia. Cubing's such a fun hobby that I'm sure I'll have for the rest of my life. For other life stuff... I'm not sure, I haven't thought that far ahead yet. I'd like to be working at a job or in a field that I really enjoy, and one where I can always be learning new things.

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Here is a video of his current 3x3x3 world record average (5.80 seconds):
 
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