Canada has cracked the top 10 at a major international mathematical showdown, placing ninth out of more than one hundred teams of high school students from all over the world.
The competition, known as the International Mathematical Olympiad, wrapped up on Sunday in Cape Town, South Africa.
The result marks the second time in more than thirty years that Canada has finished in the top 10. The Chinese team took the top spot and the Americans placed second.
“I’m very pleased,” David Arthur, one of the team coaches, wrote in an e-mail.
The Canadian team, consisting of six students from across the country, spent two weeks training together in Banff, Alta. They managed their strong result by performing well on an unusually open-ended question that stumped most competitors.
“Problem #6 … was different,” Mr. Arthur wrote. “Generally speaking, Olympiad problems ask contestants to prove specific results for which the organizers have a specific solution in mind. The solutions are often ingenious – hard enough that most research mathematicians struggle to find them – but they are short and they are self-contained. Once a student finds the solution to an Olympiad problem, there is not usually much left to say on the subject.”
Problem No. 6, the last question on the Olympiad exam, was the kind of problem that didn’t have a tidy answer. It came from a field of mathematics known as extremal combinatorics, which involves determining how large or small a set of objects can be. It was a very open-ended problem, one that could be approached in a number of different ways.
One of the Canadian competitors was among just 14 students (out of a field of about 560) who managed a perfect score on that problem.
Exam scores were tabulated for each student, and then added together for a team score.
Gold medals were awarded to Zhuo Qun (Alex) Song and Kevin Sun, both Canadian students who attend high school in Exeter, N.H. A silver medal was awarded to Antonio Molina Lovett of École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton, and bronze medals were given to Michael Chow of Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Toronto, as well as Caleb Ji and Alexander Whatley, who both attend high school in the United States.