IMO 2014 (I)-Behind the stage

The announcement of IMO 2014 team was a final victory for us, since we made the top 6 of Malaysia with no further elimination. But we had no room to slack: the big competition was 1.5 months away. Registration, information submission, letter of invitation,…these had to be done fast, and we would be proceeding to the final training program, given the schedule, and venue fixed at Permata Pintar.

The expectation was high, for both personal and overall team performance. We created record in both team ranking and team score for 4 years non-stop, which implies eyes were on us to break the record of 117 points and #31 we created last year. On the personal side, I targeted myself for a gold, simply because:
(a) I won two silver medals in past 2 IMOs, and for last year I missed a gold medal for only three points (painful, right?)
(b) Collectively in past APMO, IMO and Raffles Invitational MO I had 5S, 2B, 1HM, 0 gold.

But…given the fact that you have to be among the best 1/12 among brainy (young) mathematicians all over the world, it’s never easy to achieve the goal. According to last year’s boundary (31 points), and the fact that partial marks are scarce for hard problems, it’s necessary to solve a complete problem among Problem 3 and 6. In other words, you need a perfect score, at least for one day.

Given 40 days of preparation, what we could do were just to sharpen our weapons, and utilize our training session to learn. Thanks god we had our past Olympian: Mr. Loke Zhi Kin.

Ceremonious presentation with VVIPs
Many thanks to Exxon Mobil, which generously allocated RM110k annually for our training, and this time it continued its benevolent act. This deed was then acknowledged in the public when the Cheque Presetation Ceremony was held on 11th June 2014, in between our first and second weekend camp, at the holy venue of Permata Pintar which just took over the no-easy task of organising IMO camps from PERSAMA.

Starting from last year, the presentation was done together with National Science Challenge (NSC), and from there we managed to “make” ourselves part of NSC by looking at the videos delineating the process of eliminations by workshops, state and national challenges. Some shadows of IMO elimination pyramid were disguised in the video too, if you step back and look at the big picture. Moreover, like us, the winners (a team of 3) gain the scarce opportunity to witness the Nobel Prize Ceremony. Some video clips about their experiences followed the visual tempt, making us feel uncomfortable for being unable to dream for it.

And speech…That’s a central component in ceremonies, and in most ceremonies its formulaic content often made audience’s ears stay far away from it. Ironically I was all ears to the speeches this time because that was different from previous years! Basically, some stories about IMO, and more about the importance of science and maths in the industries.

Photo with VVIPs
Photo with V VIPs
Zi Song and Justin being interviewed (some content error, though :( )
Zi Song and Justin being interviewed. Some content error, though 😦

The ceremony adjourned soon. Zi Song and I decided to stay in Permata Pintar before the next weekend camp, and together with Kin Aun we had one weekday paper there. How did the story continue? Have a look.

Three weekend rocks
The Miraculous Penang state has three members in IMO team (no more domination of Klang Valley like last 3 years!), thus we had transportation arranged beautifully for all camps (except the first week, but a teacher was assigned to accompany us throughout the traveling journey). Friday was a day of what we were waiting for, where we kept asking “has Yi Kye/Justin/Shazryl arrived?”

With my roommates (Kin Aun and Zi Song)
Brain crunch
Enough with our joy and excitement of gathering, and it’s time for brain twist for problem solving session at night. Zhi Kin planned it well: he gave us a set of USAMO problems for collaboration purposes, and most importantly, IMO 2013 shortlist which was made public after IMO 2014. Saturday was a continuation of such problem solving session, where we continued our topic the day before.

The 4.5 hours of silence
We were to do 4 sets of papers per week (2 of which were done on Saturdays and Sundays), each with 3 problems to be done in 4.5 hours. The 6 of us then created an intense examination environment, trying to vanquish all possible problems in the set. That’s how we felt that the time passed too fast.

While the test meant to build our momentum, it unfortunately made me feel diffident about what I was aiming for…My average was about 2 out of 3, not hitting my desired target. How about considering only on those papers with at least IMO level? I was again convinced that I’m in the Silver zone, struggling in jumping over the elite gold lounge. Why not reduce my tension by aiming just for maintaining my results as a silver medalist? Nope. This couldn’t trigger my aim: who knows if I could be damn lucky in the actual IMO?

Relaxation-coping with trepidation
Though Saturday afternoon is meant to be problem solving session, Zhi Kin understood that we just had our mind upside-down by the test in the morning. We didn’t do USAMO problems as at night, but read solution of some obscure problem instead (e.g. IMO 2003 N8). Sorry, but that was not relaxing either: we could hardly follow the abstruse solution using vector and matrices.

Apart from this, Dr. Ong Shien Jin gave a talk, incorporating computer science into solving a combinatorial problem in British MO. Frank enough to say, I hadn’t touched any materials in programming since the camp in last December, but in this context, I was lucky enough to understand the materials! Who cares even when the insight required was profound? As usual, Justin and Zi Song (who turned out to qualify for IOI 2014 team but gave their way to IMO) facilitated the lecture, and it turned out as good as you can expect.

Unlike IMO selection camps, we “get rid” of bicycles and stepped into modern technologies: Cytus and Deemo, both which required dexterity in taping the correct notes and accurate positions–it worth noting how I annoyed my two roommates in attempting  perfect score for one of the songs, since the song was too irritating! “Gosh our ears are cleared!” they exclaimed when I succeeded in my mission.

This enthusiasm, however, was short-lived (just like my passion towards video games) and the guys soon diverted their attention into Japanese animation videos and related game–OSU when the IMO drew near (except me who was still in craze with Cytus). Probably this was similar to math where everyone focused on specific topic for some short period of time before learning the new ones…

Final septuplets of days (27/6-3/7)
The final week is named traditionally as Mindsetting camps, where it was meant to make us to be mentally and physically prepared for IMO. This isn’t that easy to describe: beine mentally prepared and being “mathematically” prepared aren’t same, and there was a lot of work to do to achieve both—that’s what teammates were for. Unfortunately, that last moment of my IMO journey broke my record of full attendance in IMO camps, and it was more than just a single day: in the first morning of this camp, I was checking into my college hostel, and another briefing was held at the same place, which was made mandatory for all Bursary students in Sunway College on 2/7. Well, excused absent was perfectly alright, especially in this context, but I didn’t want my golden time with the team to be sacrificed.

It was also our final moments with our team leader before his early departure to the jury meeting. Apart from the pre-departure briefing (safety, health, team spirit, etc), he handed us 4 books for reference: 2 on algebra and 2 on geometry. We acted as if we have seen Aliens landing on the Earth upon the threshold concepts: a lot of them were new to us.

The team picture in mindsetting camp, credits to Zhi Kin.
The team picture in mindsetting camp, credits to Zhi Kin.

The Mindsetting camp ended very soon, and it was time for relaxation with families, before facing the ultimate challenge!

Ps: An acknowledgement to Professor Arsmah and Mdm Masita for visiting us during the Mindsetting Camp, and showing care and love as a mother (yeah this was how she treated us during when she was the IMO Chairwoman). It took her 45 minutes of drive furthermore.

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