Two SA Students win Medals at 2007 International Olympiad

Two South African students won medals at the 2007 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) held in Zagreb, Croatia. 

The two are part of a team of four that was selected from 33 000 participants in last year’s Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.

The IOI is an annual competition for young computer programmers.  It is held in a different country every year.  This year 282 participants from 73 countries took part.  The competition itself takes place over two days.  On each of the competition days, the participants receive three problems.  They have five hours to write the computer programs to solve these problems.  After 5 hours the evaluators use data sets of increasing complexity to check if the program can provide the correct answers in the allocated time – often less than half a second.

The two medal winners from South Africa:
Ralf Kistner, the 2006 Standard Bank Trophy winner for the highest mark in the South African Computer Olympiad – when he was in Grade 12.  Ralf is now a first year student at the University of Stellenbosch. Ralf is a regular participant in Maths Olympiads, having taken part in the 2004 Pan-African Maths Olympiad and the 2005 International Maths Olympiad.  This is Ralf’s second year of participation in the IOI.  He also won a medal at IOI 2006 in Mexico. Ralf lists his hobbies as climbing, programming and maths.

Dirk B Coetzee, from Ceres, who won his place in the South African IOI team while he was in grade 12, can also boast a medal.  He is currently studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Stellenbosch.

The other two team members were Charles Bradshaw from Rondebosch Boys’ High and Mark Danoher from Pearson High in Port Elizabeth.  Both did comparatively well, but missed getting medals.  Charles is at the University of Cape Town this year, but Mark is still at school and could therefore have another shot at winning IOI medals in 2008.

The team was delighted with the experience.  “We are proud of the medals, but we also loved the opportunity to mix with young people from more than 70 other countries.  The organizers gave us plenty of time to make new friends.”

Peter Waker, Vice President (Education & Training) of the Computer Society of South Africa comments:  “It is amazing that a small player like South Africa can do so well in a competition with the rest of the world.   The USA, Russia, China and Poland walk off with most medals, but two bronze medals for our chaps; that is a incredible result

No one had a perfect score.  Top was Tomasz Kulczynski of Poland with 95,6%, and second was Yi Yang from China with 92,5%.  Four students even ended two days of competition with a total score of zero.

Donald Cook, team leader, reported that “One of the second day questions was extremely difficult, and only 3 out of 282 contestants received full marks for the most difficult question.”

In the Croatian capital Zagreb, there was no evidence of the civil war which raged in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, but when the participants went further south to visit the Plitvice Lakes and the Nikola Tesla Centre, they passed buildings still pockmarked from machine gun fire and the occasional burned down house which had not yet been repaired.

A number of senior delegations, including South Africa, were invited to coffee with the Vice-President of Croatia.  Like most Croatians she wanted to make sure the teams were well fed.
“I have heard no complaints,” the Croatian organizer assured her quickly.
“I have heard many complaints,” the South African Delegation Leader chipped in.
A deathly silence fell round the table.
“The food is too good, there is too much and we are all getting fat.”

The entire delegation consisted of:
Charles Bradshaw from Rondebosch Boys’ High (now at the University of Cape Town)
Dirk B Coetzee from Stellenbosch High School (now at the University of Stellenbosch)
Mark Danoher from Pearson High School, Port Elizabeth (currently in Grade 12)
Ralf Kistner from Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch (now at the University of Stellenbosch)
Peter Waker: Olympiad Administrator
Donald Cook: Lecturer at UCT,Team Leader
Marco Gallotta: Deputy Team Leader