With South Africa suffering from a medal drought in 2008, the good news is that a South African did land a bronze; not in Beijing, but in Cairo, and not in sport, but in computer programming.
Every year students from about 80 countries from all over the world meet for the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). This year 283 students from 73 countries met at the Mubarak City of Education, in the desert, 30km West of Cairo to compete in the 20th IOI.
A team of four South Africans joined competitors from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and teams from 5 other continents to compete for Gold, Silver and Bronze. Team members were selected from the 34 000 participants in the 2007 South African Standard Bank Computer Olympiad. All were still at school when selected.
Mark Danoher, Pearson High (Port Elizabeth)
Robert Ketteringham, Rondebosch Boys’ High (Cape Town)
Schalk-Willem Krüger, Ferdinand Postma High (Potchefstroom)
Saadiq Moolla, Rondebosch Boys’ High (Cape Town)
The participants spend two days – 5 hours per day – writing the computer programmes that will solve the given problems. Mark Danoher took the lead among the South Africans by scoring 100 on the First Day. However the next competition day it was Saadiq Moolla’s turn to score 100. Saadiq’s combined score for the two days was sufficient to earn him a bronze medal.
Peter Waker of the Computer Society of South Africa, and manager of the Standard Bank Computer Olympiad had the following comment: “The problems were extremely challenging this year, and many participants had to go home with a zero score. Obtaining a bronze under those circumstances is an excellent achievement.”
Saadiq matriculated after being selected for the South African team, and is currently a medical student at the University of Cape Town. In his career choice he follows in the footsteps of his father, Dr Shabir Moolla, who is a general practitioner in Cape Town. Mark Danoher has also matriculated since being selected, and is studying Computer Science at the University of Cape Town.
Robert Ketteringham and Schalk-Willem Krüger are still at school, and will have an opportunity to qualify for IOI 2009, which will be held in Bulgaria.
It was not all work for the team. Before and after the competition days they had opportunities to see more of Egypt visiting the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, cruise on the Nile and visit the Red Sea. Schalk-Willem accepted a “free” ride on a camel only to discover that the camel driver wanted a substantial amount to let him off the camel again. This problem was solved by one of the Egyptian guides – without a computer – but with loud voices and much waving of the arms.
The winner at the International Olympiad in Informatics this year was Huacheng Yu of China. Second was Panupong Pasupat from Thailand, while third was shared between Dong Zhou of China and Marcin Koscienicki of Poland.
There were very few female participants at the IOI, but the first top female participant, Danqi Chen (China), managed a very respectable gold medal.