This year, I was chosen to represent New Zealand at the 48th International Mathematical Olympiad held in Hanoi, Vietnam, along with 5 other high school students.
The team selection process began from September of last year, where we did a problem set called the September Problems, and 25 people from all over New Zealand were selected for a residential training camp held Christchurch in January. At the camp, we were lectured and sat two exams, and the top 10 were selected to be in the IMO Training Squad. The squad members received assignments, and were able to participate in the Asia-Pacific Mathematical Olympiad. Our performances determined the final selection for the team of 6 representing New Zealand at this prestigious event. The team and the two reserves received further training in the four areas of mathematics, namely number theory, combinatorics, geometry and algebra, before our departure for Vietnam.
When we arrived at Hanoi airport on July 23rd, we were greeted by our guide Tham, and a red banner with “Warmly welcoming contestants of the 48th IMO” written in block letters. We were then taken by a bus to our hotel. The hotel was air-conditioned through out, which was needed when the temperature was always around 30 degrees, even at night! Hanoi was a very lively city, with roads full of motorcycles, and relatively few cars, whose horn honking can be heard well into the night.
On the next day we attended the opening ceremony, where the Vietnamese prime minister officially declared the start of the Olympiad. I was surprised that our bus fleet was escorted by police, and ran almost every single red light. Besides that, there were some brilliant performances from Vietnamese artists, and Cuba once again got the biggest cheer for their one-man team.
July 25th and 26th, were the two days when we had 2 four-and-a-half hour exams in the mornings. Each exam consisted of only 3 problems, in rough order of difficulty. I felt calm when I walked into the exam room, because I had participated in last year’s IMO, and I knew that stress and panic wouldn’t do me any good in this extremely difficult exam. On the first day, I spent the majority of my time attempting to solve the first problem, however a mistake in the understanding of the problem cost me the chance to solve it. I was also unable to solve the more difficult number 2 and 3, and I felt quite disappointed about this. I did better on the second day, fully solving number 4, but making little progress in number 5 and 6. Overall I was quite happy, because my complete solution for number 4 would earn me an “honourable mention”.
After the exams are finished we had plenty of time to socialize with other contestants, exchange souvenirs, and get to know each other and each other’s country. Apart from our normal “friends” from English-speaking countries, I had a chance to talk to the Montenegro team, learning that they’re the youngest country in existence. We were also taken on 2 excursions out of Hanoi, one of which was the beautiful Ha Long Bay. The limestone caves and the amazing landscape that formed over billions of years were truly spectacular. Also we had a chance to shop in the CBD of Hanoi, where we all picked up on the methods of haggling. I had the impression that the people of Vietnam were very friendly, despite the fact that verbal communication was made next to impossible by the language barrier.
It was evident that this event was taken very seriously in Vietnam. During our stay, news about the Olympiad could be seen on major newspapers, and state television. According to Shaun and a member of the Canadian team, I was shown on TV twice! Additionally, en route to the closing ceremony, I was lucky to be interviewed by the Voice of Vietnam.
The closing ceremony, much like the opening ceremony, contained many entertaining performances by Vietnamese artists. As a team, we did rather well this year. Ilya, Ronald and Rupert each received a bronze medal, while Emily and I were awarded with honourable mentions.
I thoroughly enjoyed this unforgettable experience, and would like to take this opportunity to voice my thanks to the New Zealand Mathematical Olympiad Committee, for their support and organization of this trip, the Royal Society of New Zealand for providing me with funding, thus make this trip possible. I would like to especially thank our team leader Michael Albert, deputy leader Heather Macbeth, for giving us trainings, and arguing hard with the competition coordinators for partial credits in my incomplete solutions. And last but not least, our team manager Shaun Harnett, for accompanying us in this long journey. Thank you.