"Sometimes math is just fun"

- July 6, 2006

IMO students get tied up in a geometry demonstration. (Abriel photo)

It is time once again. Six of the most gifted high school math students have been chosen to represent Canada in the 2006 International Math Olympiad (IMO) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The students have just completed a training camp held at Dalhousie, organized by Caroline Adlam, Jill Falkenberg, Dr. Dorette Pronk, Dr. Roman Smirnov and Gretchen Smith of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Team members were joined by a number of local math students studying for possible inclusion in future IMO competitions. This was the most recent in a number of similar camps meant to help the Canadian team prepare for the IMO. Over 90 countries have fielded teams to compete in this problem-solving competition, and Canada has garnered more than 100 medals since joining the Olympiad in 1981. In last yearÕs IMO, held in MŽrida, Mexico, Canada placed 19th. This yearÕs team of Yang Peng, Dong Uk Rhee, Farzin Barekat, Viktoriya Krakovna, Peng Shi and Yufei Zhao aims to raise the bar.

Why attempt such a colossal undertaking? Those selected invariably say they love doing math. As team member Farzin Barekat (Sutherland Secondary School, Northern Vancouver) says, those chosen for the team just have a natural love for problem solving. The IMO adds a new dimension.

ÒSometimes math is just fun,” explains Farzin. ÒSometimes, itÕs like doing math is my job, and thereÕs a responsibility for me.” Farzin and his teammates are excited to experience a culture new to them and meet students from nearly 100 other countries who share their interest in mathematics. In Slovenia, they will be able to compare ideas with other young people from across the globe.

The IMO is always growing. ÒSince it was started in Eastern Europe in 1959, over 90 countries are competing. We expect there to be more than 100 countries in three or four years,” explains executive director Dr. Graham Wright. Team coaches Robert Morewood and Naoki Sato say that the rankings are informal since students compete individually. The emphasis of the IMO is on improving math skills and cultural exposure. ÒThe IMO is a rich experience for students,” says Sato. ÒThey get to meet other students from around the world.” After the competition, the team will tour Slovenia for several days before returning home.

Training for the IMO can sometimes be as stressful as it is enriching. As Dr. Wright explains, team members are chosen from across Canada based on an array of tests, training camps and national, smaller-scale Olympiads. When the team is chosen for the worldwide competition, there can be as many as three training sessions in one day. When the time does come to compete, the test takes nine hours spread out over two days, and covers topics from inequalities to geometry.

Whatever the case, this month away from home promises to be a great experience for all involved.

Stewart Delo is a student volunteer with Dalhousie News for the summer. He is entering the University of King's College journalism program in the fall.


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