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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

USA Wins 2nd in International Math Olympiad by Matt McGann '00

Three MIT '09s won Gold Medals.

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?

10 responses to “USA Wins 2nd in International Math Olympiad”

  1. Saad Zaheer says:

    Congratulations to the Team USA! its a big achievement, as I am among those who have represented their countries in the Olympaids, (IPhO 2004- S Korea for Pakistan) I can understand how big an achievement this is!

    let me say here that achieving such feats is by no means Ordinary,

    Well done guys from the Class of 2009! you have made all 09ers proud!

  2. I could win the Olympics gold medal in solo synchronized swimming!

  3. But no one would appreciate my talent… but I’m excited to be going to school with all of these math whizzes! That’s awesome!

  4. MITmom says:

    Congratulations to the entire US team, but especially the 3 who will be attending MIT! (that’s 3 out of only 4 seniors, btw) Ben, do you know how many members total of the class of 2009 will have participated in one of the int’l olympiads?

  5. Mollie says:

    My boyfriend (Adam Woodworth ’07) is a competitive freestyle skiier, and there is a chance that he might get to be on the US team for the ’06 Torino Olympics.

    That is, if selectionals are a different week this year… last year they were during fall term finals, so he had to choose between trying for the US ski team and passing Unified. He chose Unified, obviously.

  6. Meder says:

    well, that’s great! but i’m trully happy for the chinese team… 4 full scores.. wow!

    what about the Kyrgyzstan, they got 2 bronze medals, what is also a good achievement

  7. Sigh, a pity I’m a Canadian in a foreign land… Otherwise, I may have had the motivation to invest more time in my Bio Olympiad training, and perhaps win a medal for myself in the Singapore Bio Olympiad – I only ever wanted to represent my home country for the Bio Olympiad…

  8. Hann says:

    Congrats to the team!

    O.o Hey Eric – my name’s Hann and I’m in the exact reverse of your situation. I’m a Singaporean who’s living in the US whose parents are applying for a Canadian PR… so I just took part in the Canadian Bio Olympiad selection test (aka UofT Natl Bio Competition) because Singapore won’t let me participate in theirs (logistical issues, I can’t train with you guys if I’m living overseas). I hope you like living in Singapore though – it was a tough decision to move away for me and I still go back to visit it every year.

  9. unknown says:


  10. Hey guyz! Guess what, I’m from South Africa and I would really like to take part in the IMO this year! But it seems pretty difficult! I had quite a chalenge in Hong Kong at the 9th Po Leung Kuk! Does anyone know about it or has anyone participated in it? Let me know – niki@internext