Australian Maths Trust

IMO 2019: counting down…

Welcome! Here is a summary of the recent trip to Bath for the 2019 IMO, counting down to The Mathematics Ashes on Day -2, the opening ceremony on Day 0, the first exam on Day 1… and heading home again on Day 7.

DAY 9 (Wed 24/7)
Home at last. (Or a few more hours in Sydney airport if you miss your connection to Canberra…)

DAY 8 (Tues 23/7)
Abu Dhabi – Olympiad training is just about the furthest thing from everyone’s minds now – so what do the boys do to pass the time between flights? Start catching up on missed homework from school, of course! Crazy.

But it’s also the perfect time to reflect on the fortnight that has been. Even without the six medals and The Ashes, the trip has been a wonderful success – new friendships forged and old ones re-kindled, challenges faced with composure and setbacks navigated with resilience, and the responsibility of representing a nation at the highest level handled with maturity and dignity (well, aside from all that koala’ing, maybe).

With a fair degree of editorial license*, here are some hand-picked moments to remember:
AndresAndrew’s words of wisdom on solving geometry problems: “Inversion is never too much.”
Hadyn Aron’s attempt to write the alphabet legibly: “a b c d e f j h k g …”.
James Wilson’s first words to Andres: “I’ve heard about you – you’re a cocky little boy!”
Preet Three words: one, five, seven.
Will Getting three koalas on stage in the Opening Ceremony. Pinned to other teams’ flags, that is.
Yasiru Aron’s trash talking during the pre-IMO training camp: “How are you going to celebrate your last day with The Ashes?”
Angelo Receiving a bottle of wine from the South African team leader. A bottle of Australian wine.
SampsonWitnessing firsthand the efficiency of the IMO jury meetings, like trying to speed up the voting process by voting on how to vote.
Andrew Finesse, bluff, reverse finesse – or just play whatever you want, James.
Chris Failing to say thank you. Thank you. Have a nice day.

* ‘Editorial license’ sounds fancier than ‘complete fabrication in places’.

DAY 7 (Mon 22/7)
Departure day. Will makes an early getaway to continue the family holiday (next stop the US), but otherwise the Aussies have a pretty leisurely time of it compared to some other teams who have to leave the campus at all sorts of crazy times in the night. Even so, an unnamed student sleeping in until 3 minutes before the check-out time of 10am adds some excitement to the morning. Yasiru spends a quality hour or so with his uncle, aunt and cousin who drive down (or sideways?) from London. Some sad goodbyes and a hurried final lunch at the Lime Tree later, and suddenly it’s all aboard to start the Bath-Bristol-Amsterdam-Abu Dhabi-Melbourne/Sydney horror run. The aforementioned unnamed student sends two waves of panic through the team in the space of ten minutes, first with a rushed return to the gate to board the flight from Bristol (amply compounded by Chris’s modern take on the classic “send out a second search party to search for the first search party” routine), followed closely by a suspected lost passport on the tarmac. But crises averted, and we’re off.

DAY 6 (Sun 21/7)
Amid the more sobering activities of starting to get organised with a little pre-packing and alleviating administrative stress levels by scrambling to locate passports, today’s festivities culminate in the IMO closing ceremony in a huge marquee on the university grounds, including the usual bevy of congratulatory speeches and thank yous to volunteers and sponsors, the presentation of well-earned medals, and the handing over of the IMO flag from the UK team to the Russians (looking forward to St Petersburg next year), before the fairground rides open up outside and the dance floor starts kicking with a live band.

DAY 5 (Sat 20/7)
The 50th anniversary of the faking of the moon landing sees a bit of a lazier day for the group – a decent sleep-in, a quick foray into Bath for souvenir shopping and/or touring around the Roman baths and Bath Abbey, followed by the IMO lecture by Professor Ben Green of the University of Oxford (without special guest contributions this time), and a final joint dinner out with the UK team at Franco Manca (ironically, our jaunts for dinner further afield than the Lime Tree used to be to avoid having pizza every night…)

Congratulations to our team, Will, Hadyn, James, Preet, Andres and Yasiru, who all earned medals in this year’s IMO – 2 Gold, 1 Silver and 3 Bronze – ranking 18th overall (ahead of a number of unnamed traditional rivals). Full details are available here. Congratulations also to Angelo, Sampson and Andrew for their tireless efforts in the coordination phase over the last couple of days.

Earlier that day…
A quick ten-hour excursion to Oxford today, culminating in a lecture on elliptic curves by Sir Andrew Wiles, of Fermat’s Last Theorem fame, from the University of Oxford, with special guest contributions from none other than Australia’s very own Wilson-the-guide. Other highlights include visiting Christ Church College, seeing the full edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the flesh (so to speak), and exploring the Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology. And rain. Oh, the rain. After 11 days of brazen and self-satisfied sunshine, we are finally treated to a traditional British summer.

DAY 3 (Thurs 18/7)
The first day of post-competition excursions sees the group catch a train to Bristol to visit the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by influential English engineer Brunel and opened in 1864. Other highlights of the day include St Mary Redcliffe church, getting caught up in the Extinction Rebellion environmental protests, Brandon Hill playground, and helping the local bobbies with their inquiries (actually just being tourists, I swear). Andres introduces the group to a new culinary experience: roasted crickets. They taste like chicken (cricket-flavoured chicken, admittedly).

DAY 2 (Wed 17/7)
Exam 2 – all the speculation overnight about what mathematical challenges await the students is now moot. The team leaders, who helped set the papers from their hidey-hole at Celtic Manor in the Usk Valley, Wales, are soon able to join the rest of the IMO community at the University of Bath.
Deputies and observers keen on sitting the paper themselves are locked away in the Chancellor’s Building; the real work for them starts after lunch when marking begins.
The Australians let rip with another inspiring chorus of Ois on the way into the final stage of the competition. Disappointingly, there are rumours that the New Zealand team weren’t organised enough to learn the Haka in time…

…and suddenly it’s all over! There are a few regrets and a few frustrations, but all in all the team are satisfied with a job well done. It sounds like a clean sweep for Q4, and good progress on Q5… but the Q6 geometry problem is, in Angelo’s words, insanely hard – unless you do a straightforward and completely unilluminating complex bash*. Now over to the leaders, deputy leaders and coordinators to adjudicate over the next few days.

* You gotta keep up with the lingo at IMO.

Leaders, deputies and guides eagerly await the release of their students after Exam 2
Teams reunite
Australia’s national war cry

DAY 1 (Tues 16/7)
The wait is over! No pre-game nerves, the kids just mean business now. After Preet leads a rousing rendition of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi”, which surely strikes fear into the hearts of the opposition, Exam 1 is under way…

…and just like that, the first four and a half hours of competition is done. Mixed reactions, although there is a consensus that medium difficulty geometry was unexpected (so maybe should have been expected? That’s how these things work, isn’t it?). The vibe from most of the Aussies is that they got at least one or two questions out, a solid start to the competition. Time will tell – results aren’t expected until the leaders and deputies do ‘coordination’ on Thursday and Friday.
Next on the agenda is a trip with the UK team to the Botanical Gardens at Royal Victoria Park, a nice spot for the teams to compare notes about the day’s IMO problems. A bus breakdown on the return journey adds a little variety to proceedings, although mercifully close to home at the very top of the now infamous climb up Bathwick Hill.
The change of accommodation on campus some days ago notwithstanding, the UK’s lounge back in The Quads is our home away from home away from home, where a few quiet games (and some rather more raucous ones) see out the evening. A stash of confiscated koalas is discovered in Derek the pig(gy bank) – must do something about that before too long.
The team returns to Eastwood for an early night in preparation for Exam 2.

Pre-game team chat
Pre-game queuing

DAY 0 (Mon 15/7)
A leisurely breakfast, a little down time, a quick lunch, a bus into town, a brief jaunt through the streets to kill some time and soak up more architecture, including St John’s and Bath Abbey, and then it’s off to the IMO Opening Ceremony at The Forum. The DJ keeps a festive mood going while 600+ eager IMO participants, and probably a few hundred more volunteer guides, deputy leaders and observers, pile into the lower level of the venue – and presumably as a hundred or so team leaders, kept carefully segregated from the rank and file for the sake of the competition’s legitimacy, pile into the top level. The speeches are brief and the parade of nations is heartwarming, with extra applause at all the right moments.
But the main event of the day, at least for the Australian team, is the traditional koala-ing* of unsuspecting rival team members (and sometimes non-rival team members), a covert meta-contest that is sure to outlast the formal elements of the IMO competition, which are now only hours away…
An early night is in order!

* Yes, anything can be a verb.

Australia takes the stage at The Forum
Koala’d – traditional rival (left) and collateral damage (right)
St John’s Church, outside and in

DAY -1 (Sun 14/7)
Another long walk through the countryside this morning, culminating in stunning views from Sham Castle.
The afternoon is whiled away watching a 5 hour Wimbledon final in the Quads common room, with occasional interruptions from card games with the UK team and their new neighbours from Malaysia, or an all-in epic battle on the football (soccer) field with team members from New Zealand, Austria, Netherlands and friends. Most teams have arrived by now. Our excitable guide Wilson (2016 IMO team member, now at Cambridge) is never far from the action.

Three perfect scores and three honourable mentions (a complete solution for at least one out of three problems) has seen Australia successfully defend the Ashes. Detailed scores are available here.
Now a well-earned couple of days’ rest before the IMO begins in earnest.

The Ashes retained by Andres, Hadyn, Will, Yasiru, James and Preet, with Deputy Team Leaders past and present, Andrew (right) and Sampson (left)

Day -2 (Sat 13/7) The Ashes
The wait is over. This thing just got real.

The battle is now over, but the marking has just begun – delayed considerably by an unexpected change of accommodation to Eastwood Houses, just to keep us on our toes. Not quite so new. Not quite so now. But a little more room for swinging cats, if that’s your thing.
Awaiting the judges’ decision…

The excitement goes up a notch as the Australian and UK teams battle for The Ashes
Test match play at its finest
Drinks come onto the field

DAY -3 (Fri 12/7)
Practice exam number 4. All good fun.
The real competition of the day is an impromptu “Mini-golf Ashes” at Victoria Falls. Obviously at the IMO it’s all about highest-score-wins, so Australia comes out on top which is hopefully a good omen for the real thing in exam number 5 on Saturday.

AUS Score  UNK Score
Andres 84Alex 63
Chris 57Aron 75
Hadyn 74Ben 74
James 91George 64
Preet 78Liam101
Will 72Tom 67
Yasiru 77Yuhka 64
Pulteney Bridge on the River Avon
Another typical view on the long walk into town for the Mini-golf Ashes
Can Australia successfully defend The Mathematics Ashes?

DAY -4 (Thurs 11/7)
Probably the toughest day of practice exams so far – the ones they set for each other of course! Students work in pairs to mark the other team’s scripts and then simulate the ‘coordination’ phase of the IMO proper, where they defend their marking decisions to an expert panel (made up of the deputy leaders and other team observers). A great experience for the students as they tweak their own techniques for writing up clear and concise solutions – but a pretty long day for all concerned.
Returning to the local food court on campus, the Lime Tree (or the library, if you’re hard of hearing), for dinner – some students definitely have in their sights the challenge of completing the full pizza menu during their stay. Lettuce is also available, to add variety.

DAY -5 (Wed 10/7)
Other: another long explore of the university grounds and surrounds. Dinner: Indian take-away. One of the sauces is very yellow.
The subtle inter-team taunting is starting to ramp up a little now. Tomorrow each team will do the exam set by the students in the other team, so no-one misses an opportunity to point out just how difficult they’ve made it.
Another positive day, everyone in good spirits.

DAY -6 (Tues 9/7)
So here is the routine for the next few days: get up early, breakfast, exam from 8:30am to 1pm, lunch, other, dinner, exam debrief, chit-chat and games, bed, rinse, repeat.
Today’s “other” involves a trip into town with both teams, while leaders stay behind and mark the exams. The UK team buys a pig. The Australian team buys a sim card. There is a flurry of confused map-reading and a general soaking up of the oldness of everything around us. A quick stop-off at the Royal Crescent (pic below) followed by dinner at Wagamama (one of many new things to learn about British culture) where the leaders join the rest of the group, and finally a long walk back up the hill to the university.
The buzz amongst the students doesn’t ever veer away from the latest exam question or favourite new problem for very long. Despite the underlying competitiveness of the situation, the cooperation and eagerness to learn from each other are quite something.

Australian and UK teams (plus Derek the pig) at the Royal Crescent, Bath
Typical view in the streets of Bath

DAY -7 (Mon 8/7)
Abu Dhabi – the two half-teams (or thereabouts) reunite at Gate 53. The group compares notes on how many hours sleep they got on the 15-ish hour flight. Nine is the record. Less than 1 is not the record. Some hours later, Sampson and Chris wait nervously for the rest of the group to return from their 8am pizza run (admittedly it still feels like lunchtime) as the plane to Amsterdam is called.
Amsterdam – yes, we’re all here. Except for Will who is already in the UK. Chris is pleased that he was quicker than Angelo at solving a maths problem: counting to 5 and knowing to stop.
Bristol – customs is apparently only a thing in Australia. Everything is very green. There are stone walls lining the streets. Just like you see in all the quaint English TV shows with the grizzly murders.
Bath – a shortish bus-ride later, whiled away with discussions of how to use Fibonacci numbers to approximate the conversion between speed limits in miles per hour and kilometres per hour, we arrive at the University of Bath accommodation at The Quads. Very new. Very now.
We meet the UK team and, despite the many IMO first-timers in both camps, there is an immediate positive rapport between the students. The leaders also tolerate each other.
More pizza. Then bed. Andrew apparently arrives from Bordeaux* in the middle of the night.
Early start tomorrow – practice exam number 1!

* Bordeaux is not the same as Paris.

DAY -8 (Sun 7/7)
Two half-teams (or thereabouts) of the nation’s finest young mathematicians set off from Sydney and Melbourne, respectively, with one Perth-based team member already in the UK on a family holiday. Everything running smoothly so far…