- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

On the same day China won its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, a contingent of its young competitors accepted gold medals at the Kennedy Center in a different kind of Olympiad.
The six Chinese teen-agers bested about 500 of their peers from 83 countries this week to win the prestigious International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), held this year in the District. The United States and Russia tied for second.
Two Chinese Olympians achieved perfect scores on a grueling nine-hour exam, along with two Americans.
"It wasn't too surprising to most of us that China this year, I wouldn't say ran away with it, but was clearly the No. 1 team," said IMO official Ronald Graham.
That's because, according to China's coach, Yonggao Chen, mathematics are "very popular" in his land.
The United States, though not overall champions, continued its history of dominance. Team USA has scored in the top five for 22 of 25 years.
This year, team anchor Reid Barton, a shy, home-schooled competitor from Arlington, Mass., not only scored perfect on the exam, but became the first participant ever to win four gold medals in the IMO. He sheepishly attributes his success to a monthlong pre-Olympic math camp, which he has attended for six years.
The competition, first held in 1959, mirrors its athletic counterpart in several ways: the games change location each year; participants are accompanied by their proud coaches; and teams representing world powers crush their competition from nations like Macedonia and Peru.
"It's something I'm really proud of, to say I'm on the United States team," said Oaz Nir, 18, of Saratoga, Calif. "It's a cool thing."
President Bush even addressed the Olympians, by way of videotape, during the awards ceremony.
"You represent the most talented high school-age mathematicians in the world, and I commend you for your academic excellence and intellectual achievements," the president said.
Each of six youths on a team tackled six math problems during a nine-hour period over the course of two days. Participants could earn up to seven points per question, for a maximum score of 42 points.
Gold medals were awarded to those who scored in the top one-twelfth. That included all of the Chinese competitors and four of the Americans.
Medals were earned only on an individual basis, though China takes home team bragging rights for compiling the highest combined scores.
The math problems test knowledge of algebra, geometry, number theory and combinatorics, or the science of counting.
One question reads: Let a,b,c,d be integers with abcd0. Suppose that ac+bd=(b+d+a-c)(b+d-a+c). Prove that ab+cd is not prime.
"For some problems, I can say that I need three hours to solve the problem, but they solved all the six problems in nine hours," said Claude Deschamps, chairman of the IMO advisory board.
The United States made its belated entry into the competition in 1976, and managed to place third behind the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. The following year, the American team finished first.
Twenty-sevens teams were participating by the time the United States hosted the Olympiad for the first time in 1981.
The high point of U.S. participation came in 1994, when all six team members earned perfect scores, a feat never equaled before or since.
Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, used the opportunity yesterday to address the alarming "fear of mathematics" that coincides with a growing need for a work force literate in science and technology.
"All of you know that mathematics unlocks some of nature's most profound mysteries, that it permeates our economy, our health care, even the world of art," she said.



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