IOI & IMO 2013

I apologized for not reporting these news earlier. I just updated the IMO and IOI pages.

The Malaysian team did very well at the olympiads this year.

First, the IOI. The Star has the story:

Two Malaysians bag historic silver at International Olympiad in Informatics


Tham Ying Hong (left) and How Si Yu pose with their medals.

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysians created history when they bagged silver medals at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) 2013.

How Si Yu and Tham Ying Hong, both 18, each won a silver medal at the IOI 2013, which is the world’s most prestigious algorithmic computer programming competition, that was held recently in Brisbane, Australia.

How said he was reaching for more medals and will be competing at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) 2013 at Santa Marta, Colombo [should be Colombia. –SR] on Friday.

How and his twin, Si Wei, will be representing Malaysia for the fourth time at IMO 2013, which is the top mathematics competition in the world, along with four other students.

They have won gold, silver and bronze medals in the previous editions of the IMO.

“I hope to win gold again this year but it depends on the types of problems,” said Si Yu.

Malaysian Informatics and Programming Society president Dr. Ong Shien Jin, who brought the team to the competition, said he was very proud of the students.

“We brought four students to compete who were selected out of more than 300 students and we have improved tremendously since last year,” he said.

Ong explained that Malaysia ranked in the bottom quarter in its debut last year but was placed a good 28 out of 80 teams this year.

Tham, who won three medals in the previous editions of IMO, announced that he was retiring from the competition this year as he will be studying computer science at Stanford University this September.

“There is a lot of problem-solving in mathematics but programming involves solving real-world problems,” said Tham who was introduced to programming by Ong.

Current secondary school students who are inspired by Tham and Si Yu’s success can find out more about representing the country in the future IOI by referring to


And then of course, the IMO. One of the contestants, Justin, did a nice writeup on his IMO experience, reproduced here with his permission:


IMO 2013, by Justin Lim Kai Ze

Santa Marta is a city tucked away at the southern part of Colombia, one of the major tourist destinations on the Colombian Caribbean. There’s nothing not touristy about the place: the scorching sun pulls the people out of their homes and onto the beautiful beaches from beautiful daybreaks to majestic sunsets. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all accompanied by good Colombian coffee and the soothing sound of waves crashing from the sea.

If not tourism, what else could explain why 500 students crossed oceans and continents to congregate in this touristic hotspot? As always, mathematics provides the answer. On the 18 – 28th of July, Santa Marta welcomed high school students from 97 countries to participate in the 54th International Mathematical Olympiad. Each country sends six representatives to do battle for two days; not among themselves, but to face 6 math problems to be solved over 9 hours.

It’s the world’s largest party of teenage mathematicians across the globe, a festival of young people who think, breathe, and dream mathematics. And it’s not the boring math that we’re so sick and tired of – the Olympiad has previously posed questions about windmills, grasshoppers and liar’s guessing games. These are problems that the average person can read and understand, but solving them takes remarkable insight and intelligence.

Making our presence known

Malaysia has participated in the International Mathematical Olympiad since 1995, and the results have been improving quickly. Before 2008, we averaged ranks of 60 to 70. This year, we reached our highest-ever rank of 31 with a cumulative score of 117, tied with Hong Kong. 17 of our 22 medals have come from the past 6 years, 10 of these won in 2012 and 2013 alone. The team brought back the nation’s first gold medal in 2011.

There are a few clear reasons for these achievements. In 2007, past Olympians Mr Suhaimi Ramly and Mr Ikhwan Azlan returned to the IMO program to coach the national team. Effective 2010, ExxonMobil began sponsoring the national team’s intensive training program which includes training materials and workshops, as well as participation in several international pre-IMO competitions. The preparatory programs help boost the team’s confidence and readiness for the actual competition.

The road to IMO

The road to the Malaysian team is long and winding. From the National Mathematical Olympiad held annually by the Malaysian Mathematical Sciences Society, students are whittled down via four training camps and selection tests.  The roughly 10000 students are filtered down into 200, then 60, then 24, then 12, before a final test that determines the final team of six people. The process begins in July with the national competition, and the final six are announced in May. It’s a gruelling process, especially for the ones that make the final twelve, only to fail at the final hurdle.

No one knows this feeling better than Khong Yi Kye, a Form Five student from SMJK Sin Min, Kedah. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, he found himself in the final round of twelve, yet missed the final cut. He was victorious this year, however, producing solid performances in each of the selection tests to emerge as a clear candidate for the team. Also entering the team for the first time is Shazryl Shafyz b. Zulrushdi from SMK USJ 12, Selangor, who made it on his second try.

The rest of the team, however, all have experience at the IMO. Twin brothers How Si Yu and How Si Wei from Selangor are returning to the IMO for the 4th time, with 5 medals between them, including Malaysia’s first gold. Anzo Teh Zhao Yang, a student from SMJK Chung Ling Butterworth, Penang, is on his 3rd trip to the IMO, having won a silver medal in 2012. Rounding up the team is I, also on my 3rd try.

The ‘chosen six’ then go through an extended series of training. IMO training is no joke: I distinctly remember that the first piece of advice I received before my first IMO was ‘stock up on Panadol…” Team members go through 20 mock IMO tests to simulate the actual exam, each paper with 3 problems lasting 4.5 hours each. As we grill ourselves through these countless exams, the team grows closer together: we start to talk more, learn more about each other, and the bond between us gradually grows far beyond just the word ‘teammate’. The weeks fly by, and before I knew it, I was at the airport waving goodbye to my family.

Colombia is -5 on Greenwich Mean Time, and Malaysia is +8. Do the math: that’s a 13-hour time difference between the two countries. This meant two things: long journeys and massive jetlag. And the journey was long indeed: our route included transits in Amsterdam, Panama City and Barranquilla before arriving at our destination, spanning over two days of travel.

After the hellos and how-are-you’s that surrounds the lively atmosphere on arrival day, we headed to the city of Barranquilla for the opening ceremony of the 54th International Mathematical Olympiad. This year’s theme was the Carnival of Barranquilla, one of the largest carnivals in the world. Graced by the presence of the mayor of Barranquilla, the Minister of Education and other notable people, their speeches were followed by a parade of the 97 teams from around the world. Accompanied by dancers from the carnival, each team takes the stage one by one, waving their national flags in a display of pride and excitement. But behind the infectious joy at the ceremony lay a sense of responsibility, and for good measure, because the very next day was competition day, and this opening ceremony was a good reminder of the burden that lies on every competitor’s shoulders – to do well as ambassadors of our countries. We returned to the hotel with a new sense of purpose, a precursor for the challenge tomorrow…

IMO team in colombia

And so it begins

“You may begin now.” A voice echoes around the hold, followed immediately by the scuffling and shuffling of the contestants as they begin their assault on Day One. Heart pounding, I read through the 3 problems. I felt my breathing start to ease when I saw that the last problem was on geometry. Considering that geometry was my strong suit, this may be a good paper for me. If I managed to solve the first two problems quickly enough, I may even get a perfect score today.

“Time’s up. Please stop writing and put your solutions into their respective folders…” Four and a half hours later, I walked out of the contest hall feeling slightly ruffled. I hadn’t found a solution for the geometry problem. On the flipside, I had solved the other two problems, which meant that it was still a decent performance overall.

Walking into the sea of students, I found my teammates excitedly discussing their solutions. “We got the first two,” Anzo told me, gesturing to the twins. I got the same! This meant a pretty good overall performance on Day One. I started discussing my solution for Problem 2 with Si Wei. “Just induction: I extended it to the case where there are even numbers of points, and the answer is the same,” I explained. He looked confused and told me that I was wrong. “No, it must be correct,” I insisted.

Halfway through the debate, I suddenly realized that we were talking about different problems. Heart pounding, I read the problem again…and again, and again. Si Wei was right. I had misread the problem. I held my head in my hands, speechless for a minute, and tried to get over the fact that I had just virtually thrown away a shot at a silver or gold medal.

I recovered quickly, and I felt good on the morning of Day 2. When the clock started ticking, I read the questions twice this time around to prevent any further catastrophe. The first question was a geometry question, which was good, although I’d have preferred it to be the second problem. No matter. I took out my geometry tools and sketched the diagram. I drew two circles and thought for a few seconds before marking an intersection point. And then everything became blatantly obvious. I glanced at the clock: 5 minutes. Fantastic. I wrote my solution and moved on to the second problem of the day.

Fast forward to the end of the exam and I was on the verge of pulling my hair out. I couldn’t solve it. I walked out of the exam hall feeling downcast, although the news that Si Yu and Anzo had both solved two problems cheered me up considerably. The contest was now over, and it was time to have fun!

“The IMO begins now.”

Although the International Mathematical Olympiad is, as the name implies, a mathematical competition, no one actually works on math after the competition. Why would we? There was just too many interesting people to talk to, too many people to shake hands with, too many people to play with…The IMO was a time for release, for us to have fun, to talk, sing and dance after a year of work.

A particular treat came one afternoon when we heard the news that Harald Helfgott was coming to give a lecture. “Are you serious?” I kept asking our guide. Harald Helfgott was a mathematician who had recently made headlines by proving the Weak Goldbach Conjecture, a notoriously difficult problem in number theory. Along with other lectures on a variety of topics, such as MATLAB and tilings, the organizers kept us entertained – not an easy task to accomplish with 500 teenagers from around the world.

Before we knew it, two days had passed. Halfway through a game of Mafia with the Indonesian contingent, someone exclaimed that the official results had been released. The game was dropped completely as we scrambled to check on our final rankings. We finished at rank 31, winning two silver medals and three bronze medals. It was a particularly emotional moment for the Indonesians, as they had just won their first gold medal in history – a milestone Malaysia had recently passed in 2011. Words of congratulations were heard all around the room as we celebrated each others’ victories.

The closing ceremony was an outdoor affair, held at the place at which the legendary Simon Bolivar died. As the medal went around my neck, I forgot all about my disappointment at the unfortunate accident on the first day. I turned around and smiled as the applause erupted from 500 other young mathematicians, in a beautiful show of mutual respect and friendship.

And that was it. The IMO was over. I am now back home in Malaysia, and my heart still skips a little whenever one of my new friends send me a friend request on Facebook…

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