Monday 5th October 2020

Nathaniel Masfen-Yan: IMO 2020 Report

When dreaming of eventually participating in an IMO, I must say I never expected my eventual experience to be anything like what it was. Not only was I unable to meet hundreds of students with unique backgrounds and stories, spend time living in a cramped room with the whole team or finally figure out how Ross maintained his half-beard, I was also unable to even train in person with the full New Zealand team. But yet through all of the changes, the core experiences which I imagined I’d encounter in the International Mathematical Olympiad - the sense of pride and patriotism, the appreciation of and friendships with my fellow team members and most importantly the difficult problems - were still there.

The problems themselves were both my most and least favourite part of the whole experience. Day 1 was a day of a lot of surprises for me, I hadn’t really expected to see an inequality question in an IMO and I performed unusually poorly on question one. Unable to draw an accurate diagram I felt I was never able to make a lot of progress, yet somehow my brain pieced everything together on the drive home, a particularly infuriating experience. Day 2 however felt a lot more purposeful and I made sure to submit a thorough solution to question 4 with hopes of at least leaving the IMO with an honourable mention. Although initially I felt it was quite unusual, the problem ended up being particularly elegant and the most efficient construction proved a lot nicer than any of my initial ones. All in all, I felt this year’s problems were all particularly interesting even if I was only able to piece together solutions after the exams for most of them.

What was particularly notable however was the ways in which the team still found ways to stay connected over the course of the IMO even whilst the Cook strait separated each group of three. Things like playing ‘Among Us’ after debriefs and meeting up with Phillip and Rick to study mathematics at the University of Auckland library certainly came a long way in recreating the team atmosphere and creating some sense of us all contributing to the team’s overall performance. Josie and Ross also did a great job of ensuring the team had regular online lectures and problem sessions in the months prior to the IMO so that we were both prepared for the exam and incredibly close with all of the members of the team and training staff. Ultimately both the NZMOC and the IMO organising committee did a great job in making the most of all this year had in stock for us, allowing me to leave high school still feeling like I was able to have an IMO experience, even if it was one conducted in New Zealand and mostly through my laptop.

Finally, a short little problem:
If k+1 runners (k is a natural number) with pairwise distinct speeds run around a track of length 1, will every runner eventually be at least a distance of 1/(k+1) from every other runner?