Four Medals for South Africa in 2010

At the 2010 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) in Canada a team of four South African learners managed to win a bronze medal each against stiff opposition from 80 countries.

Every year learners from countries from all over the world meet for the International Olympiad in Informatics.  This year learners from 80 countries met at the University of Waterloo near Toronto, Canada to compete in the 2010 IOI.

A team of four candidates from SA traveled to Waterloo where they joined 304 other contestants to solve the eight problems ranging from easy to difficult extremely challenging.

Francois Conradie – De Kuilen High School, Kuils River, Western Cape

Graham Manuell – De La Salle Holy Cross College, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Kosie van der Merwe – Brackenfell High School, Western Cape

Sean Wentzel – Westerford High School, Western Cape

Team Leader was Peter Waker, Manager of the Standard Bank/CSSA Computer Olympiad, assisted by Keegan Carruthers-Smith, postgraduate student at the University of Cape Town, and himself a previous Olympiad medal winner.

The four learners were selected from the more than 33 000 candidates who took part in the 2009 Standard Bank/CSSA Computer Olympiad and who received additional training at three Training Camps run by the South African Computer Olympiad Trust.

The participants spent two days – 5 hours per day – writing the computer programs that would solve the given problems.

This year, as an experiment, the organizers had a live scoreboard available on the internet.  “Spectators” worldwide could log in and follow the contest as it developed.  Comments deputy leader Keegan Carruthers-Smith: “It added excitement for us.  We could see our candidates rise and fall in the ranking as the contest progressed.”

Sean Wentzel of South Africa was among the silver medal winners on several occasions, but others passed him in the ranking before the end of the contest, and he dropped back to bronze.  (see www.ioi2010.org)

One of the aspects that became clear early on in the contest is the tremendous difference in IT education between countries.  Some participants wrote a program to solve the first (easy) problem within 6 minutes; a few could not do so in 5 hours.

Many participating countries report that the number of students graduating in informatics has decreased this decade.  Especially noticeable at the IOI was the absence of female participants.  Although there were more than 300 participants, only nine were girls; three from the same country – Libya.  Masoud, the only male in the team, was the envy of many other participants.

The overall winner was Gennady Kosotkevich of Belarus.  Although he is only 15, Gennady was competing in his 5th IOI and is close to beating all time record holder, South African Bruce Merry, who competed in six IOIs and won a medal at each.

Second was Bulgarian Rumen Hristow who was competing in his third IOI.

Third was Adrian Jaskolka a first time competitor from Poland.

USA team members Wenyu Cao and Michael Cohen came fourth and fifth respectively.

Canadian Yu Cheng came sixth.

Noticeable was that Chinese team members, usually dominating the top places, came 10th, 11th, 27th and 32nd.  Commented South African team leader Peter Waker:  “The Chinese policy of dropping gold medal winners from the next year’s team to get a wider distribution of medals is unusual and probably prevented them from dominating the first few places this year.”

The availability of official scores allowed for reliable ranking of countries.

South Africa ranks 28th of 80 countries; just below Hong Kong and Brazil, and just above Serbia and Israel.  South Africa is also the top ranked African country; well above Egypt (35th), Madagascar (70th), Ghana (72nd), Libya (78th) and Nigeria (79th).

Each team had a Canadian student as guide – usually one who spoke their home language.  This was possible because the University of Waterloo attracts such a cosmopolitan student body.

There were organized outings to a Theme Park and to the Niagara Falls, in addition many participants used the opportunity to attend appropriate lectures at the university and explore the town of Waterloo.  The South African team went ice skating and go-karting with their guide.  Many decided they want to return to the University of Waterloo for postgraduate studies.