The whole world has gone crazy about the Olympics, and we could not stay away. Last week, we decided to meet an ex-‘Olympian’ and asked him few questions about his experiences. Here is our conversation in Q/A format.
Q. You are not a real Olympian, but an Olympian within quotes. Why should we give you any coverage here?
A. (smiling)….because the gymnasts are out partying at nightclubs, and Michael Phelps did not return your call.
Q. Please tell our readers about International Mathematics Olympiad.
A. It is an international competition among young mathematicians from many countries. It started with only 7 countries in 1959, but now over hundred countries participate. Every country is allowed to send exactly six young mathematicians to compete.
Q. Where does it take place?
A. The event rotates between many countries around the world. This year it took place in Argentina. Colombia will be the host in 2013. Braunschweig, West Germany hosted the event in our year.
Q. Please tell us, how you were selected as a member of your national team.
A. It happened through strange confluence of events. In mid-1988, someone posted a small notice on our school board about a mathematics contest, where our school was requested to send five kids. I was crazy about mathematics and everyone knew that I was crazy about mathematics. However, the head of our school decided to send ‘five top students’ based on general ranks, and my rank was sixth. Thankfully, two of those top five were not interested, and so I managed to sneak in.
The ‘math contest’ was an one hour exam with the strangest kinds of math problems. I never saw anything like that before. To understand the statement, you need some background on Indian school system. In our schools, we were typically given lessons on one or other math topic, and then were asked few questions related to the topic. The questions were difficult at times, but we were always able to place it within a box with limited number of tool kits. Even the much vaunted IIT entrance test was not too different. I used to be completely bored with those tests.
The questions in this contest were more like free-form puzzles and we were not even able to locate any standard tool kit to solve them. I had to use any technique I could think of to answer them. It was great fun and I thanked the organizers for providing me with an hour’s entertainment. At that point, I had no idea about the purpose of the contest, and neither did the adults present in the room.