South Africa Wins Bronze

A grade 11 learner from Gauteng returned home from the International Olymiad in Informatics in Taiwan, proudly bearing a bronze medal.


Ulrik de Muelenaere, a grade 11 learner from Waterkloof High in Pretoria was one of the team of three to take part in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI).  The team was supposed to be a team of four, but Robin Visser, a grade 12 learner from St George’s Grammar School in Cape Town, withdrew in order to take part in the International Maths Olympiad which was held in Cape Town a week earlier.  By happy coincidence Robin won a bronze medal at the Maths Olympaid.

The other members of the South African team were Shaylan Lalloo (at Pearson High, Port Elizabeth when selected) and Thomas Orton a grade 11 learner at Bishops in Cape Town.  Team leaders were Sean Wentzel and Robert Spencer of the University of Cape Town.  Sean and Robert both are past IOI medal winners.

The International Olympiad in Informatics is a programming competition that is held in a different country every year.  IOI 2014 attracted participation from 82 countries.  Top spots were taken by three participants who each had full marks. Ishraq Huda from Australia, Scott Wu from the USA and Yinzhou Xu of China.  The top dozen positions included the entire Chinese team, three participants from the USA, two from Australia, and one each from Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia.

While the South African team did not have anyone among the top scorers, they still handsomely beat the other African countries participating:  Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and Tunisia.

 “The comptetition gets more difficult every year”, said Delegation Leader Sean Wentzel. “Many countries have potential participants selected years in advance and put them through a rigorous programme.”

Team member Thomas Orton prepared for the Olympiad by solving one or two IT problems a day during the weeks before leaving for Taiwan, but it did not work out as planned.  “I had massive jet lag.  Try writing an IOI paper with only one hour of sleep.”  Olympiad Deputy Delegation leader Robert Spencer:  “Thomas actually did much better on the first day of the competition than on the second day when he had adjusted to the time difference.  We will try to keep him awake before both days in future.”

Medal winner Ulrik de Muelenaere attributes his success to participating in many online programming competitions to sharpen his skills.  “I enjoy programming and problem-solving, so I really enjoyed the IOI.”

The contest itself only took up two days.  The rest of the time was spent sightseeing, soaking up Taiwanese culture, visiting an amusement park and making new friends.

Thomas Orton:  “There were interesting participants from over 80 countries, but the closest friendships I made was with my South African team mates who were from Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.”  Ulrik de Muelenaere adds:  “However, as a group we made friends with the contestants from Nigeria.  During our free time we often played cards with them.”