Jul 18, 2005
USA Wins 2nd in International Math Olympiad
Posted in: Prepare for MIT
On July 6, the world eagerly watched as London was named the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. And this coming February (while we're evaluating Class of 2010 applications), Torino, Italy, will host the 2006 Winter Olympics. But these athletic games are not the only highly anticipated international olympiads.
Every summer, countries from across the world send teams of 4-6 high school students to represent their nation in international math & science olympiads. Competitions are held for such disciplines as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Informatics.
Today, the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) -- the oldest of the competitions -- concluded in Merida, Mexico. This year, 513 competitors from 93 competing countries participated. Contestants attempt to solve 6 math problems over 9 hours (if this sounds easy, you should check out the problems themselves here). The problems are stated in a straightforward fashion, making them look deceptively simple. Take, for example, one of this year's hardest problems:
In a mathematical competition, 6 problems were posed to the contestants. Each pair of problems was solved by more than 2/5 of the contestants. Nobody solved all 6 problems. Show that there were at least 2 contestants who each solved exactly 5 problems.
Each of the 6 problems is graded from 0-7 points, with partial credit given (on the above problem, the average score was 1.35, and the median was 0). The top 1/12 of students each year are given a Gold Medal; the next 2/12, a Silver Medal; and the next 3/12, a Bronze Medal. Also, the scores of the (maximum of) 6 team members are tallied for a country team score.
This year, the top two spots remained unchanged from last year, with perennial powerhouse the People's Republic of China winning and the United States once again finishing second in the world. Rounding out the top 5 were the teams from Russia, Iran, and South Korea.
The six members of the US team included three members of the MIT Class of 2009: Hyun Soo Kim (Gold Medal), Thomas Mildorf (Gold Medal), and Eric Price (Gold Medal). Way to go, Hyun Soo, Thomas and Eric! Other MIT '09s have competed in the different international olympiads, and not just for the US but also international students competing for their home country. (Also see this previous entry about another big math contest, the Putnam Competition)
All this may leave you wondering -- have any MIT folks competed in the, um, "real" Olympics? Yes, beginning with the first Olympic Games in 1894 (Thomas Pelham Curtis 1894, 110m hurdles) up to the most recent Olympics in 2004 (Steve Tucker '91, rowing). Wouldn't it be cool, though, if our society celebrated achievements in the academic arena as much as achievements in the sporting arena?