The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is the World Championship Mathematics Competition for high school students. The first IMO was held in 1959, hosted by Romania, with seven countries participating: Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and the USSR. The number of participating countries has increased to more than a 100 countries from all continents. Countries take turns to organize the IMO.
The contestants must be less than 20 years old and must not have any post secondary school education. There is no limit to how many times a person may participate in the IMO. The usual size of an official delegation to an IMO is (a maximum of) six students, along with the leader and deputy leader. The student competitor writes two contest papers on consecutive days, with three problems on each day. Each question is worth seven marks.
Each invited country can send in up to six problems for consideration for the final competition papers. These submissions are reviewed by the host country's problem selection committee, and a shortlist of about thirty questions is made. The choice of the questions on the actual competition papers is made by the international jury. The international jury consists of the chief delegate (leader) from each participating country, together with the chairman named by the host country. Decisions are made by a simple majority vote. The official languages of the IMO are English, French, German and Russian. Since Spanish is spoken in a large number of participating countries, it has become an unofficial “official” language. In recent years, English has been the working language of the International Jury, with the other official languages available whenever required.
The international jury members receive the shortlist of questions on arrival at the sequestered site. They review these problems and then meet to discuss which problems will be included. An honour system requires delegates to identify any suggested problems that are well known, in text books, or have been used in training programmes. Some problems are eliminated as too easy or too hard. After thorough debate, the six problems are chosen, and their wording in all the official languages is agreed. The team leaders translate the problems into all further languages required by their contestants. After that, all papers, in all languages, are inspected by all members of the international jury to ensure that all translations are appropriate.
Meanwhile, the deputy leaders and contestants will have arrived at the venue. The opening ceremony is held first, and the contest takes place the following two days. Each contestant has to solve 3 problems within 4½ hours on each of the two days in his/her own language. After the contest, the leaders and deputy leaders evaluate the solutions of their contestants and hold coordination sessions in order to ensure that the marking has been done correctly and consistently. During this time, the participants enjoy a varied entertainment programme including excursions and games.
The last day is for the closing ceremony, and the gold, silver, and bronze medals will be awarded for excellent performances. The International Mathematical Olympiad is an individual competition. Medals are awarded to at most half of the participating students. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in the ratio of 1:2:3, so that about 1/12 of the students obtain a gold medal, about 1/6 of the students obtain a silver medal and about 1/4 of the students obtain a bronze medal. In order to encourage more students, and to encourage students to solve complete problems, recent practice has awarded a certificate of honourable mention to any student (not receiving a medal) who obtained full marks for at least one problem.
For more information about the IMO visit their website: www.imo-official.org
South Africa has taken part in the IMO every year since 1992. Performance of the South African team from 2010: